Intraspecific phenotypic variation in a fish predator affects multitrophic lake metacommunity structure

Jennifer G. Howeth, Jerome J. Weis, Jakob Brodersen, Elizabeth C. Hatton, David M. Post

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Contemporary insights from evolutionary ecology suggest that population divergence in ecologically important traits within predators can generate diversifying ecological selection on local community structure. Many studies acknowledging these effects of intraspecific variation assume that local populations are situated in communities that are unconnected to similar communities within a shared region. Recent work from metacommunity ecology suggests that species dispersal among communities can also influence species diversity and composition but can depend upon the relative importance of the local environment. Here, we study the relative effects of intraspecific phenotypic variation in a fish predator and spatial processes related to plankton species dispersal on multitrophic lake plankton metacommunity structure. Intraspecific diversification in foraging traits and residence time of the planktivorous fish alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) among coastal lakes yields lake metacommunities supporting three lake types which differ in the phenotype and incidence of alewife: lakes with anadromous, landlocked, or no alewives. In coastal lakes, plankton community composition was attributed to dispersal versus local environmental predictors, including intraspecific variation in alewives. Local and beta diversity of zooplankton and phytoplankton was additionally measured in response to intraspecific variation in alewives. Zooplankton communities were structured by species sorting, with a strong influence of intraspecific variation in A. pseudoharengus. Intraspecific variation altered zooplankton species richness and beta diversity, where lake communities with landlocked alewives exhibited intermediate richness between lakes with anadromous alewives and without alewives, and greater community similarity. Phytoplankton diversity, in contrast, was highest in lakes with landlocked alewives. The results indicate that plankton dispersal in the region supplied a migrant pool that was strongly structured by intraspecific variation in alewives. This is one of the first studies to demonstrate that intraspecific phenotypic variation in a predator can maintain contrasting patterns of multitrophic diversity in metacommunities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5031-5044
Number of pages14
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number15
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Alosa pseudoharengus
  • Phytoplankton
  • Size-selective predation
  • Spatial mosaic
  • Zooplankton


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