• Predation is heterogeneously distributed across space and time, and is presumed to represent a major source of evolutionary diversification. In fishes, fast-starts--sudden, high-energy swimming bursts--are often important in avoiding capture during a predator strike. Thus, in the presence of predators, we might expect evolution of morphological features that facilitate increased fast-start speed. We tested this hypothesis using populations of western mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) that differed in level of predation by piscivorous fish. Body morphology of G. affinis males, females, and juveniles diverged in a consistent manner between predatory environments. Fish collected from predator populations exhibited a larger caudal region, smaller head, more elongate body, and a posterior, ventral position of the eye relative to fish from predator-free populations. Divergence in body shape largely matched a priori predictions based on biomechanical principles, and was evident across space (multiple populations) and time (multiple years). We measured maximum burst-swimming speed for male mosquitofish and found that individuals from predator populations produced faster bursts than fish from predator-free populations (about 20% faster). Biomechanical models of fish swimming and intrapopulation morphology-speed correlations suggested that body shape differences were largely responsible for enhanced locomotor performance in fish from predator populations. Morphological differences also persisted in offspring raised in a common laboratory environment, suggesting a heritable component to the observed morphological divergence. Taken together, these results strongly support the hypothesis that divergent selection between predator regimes has produced the observed phenotypic differences among populations of G. affinis. Based on biomechanical principles and recent findings in other species, it appears that the general ecomorphological model described in this paper will apply for many aquatic taxa, and provide insight into the role of predators in shaping the body form of prey organisms.

author list (cited authors)

  • Langerhans, R. B., Layman, C. A., Shokrollahi, A. M., & DeWitt, T. J.

citation count

  • 250

publication date

  • October 2004