Offspring size in a resident species affects community assembly

Authors: Kurt Davis and Dustin J Marshall

Published in: Journal of Animal Ecology, volume 83, issue 2 (March 2014)


Offspring size is a trait of fundamental importance that affects the ecology and evolution of a range of organisms. Despite the pervasive impact of offspring size for those offspring, the influence of offspring size on other species in the broader community remains unexplored. Such community-wide effects of offspring size are likely, but they have not been anticipated by theory or explored empirically.

For a marine invertebrate community, we manipulated the size and density of offspring of a resident species (Watersipora subtorquata) in the field and examined subsequent community assembly around that resident species.

Communities that assembled around larger offspring were denser and less diverse than communities that assembled around smaller offspring. Differences in niche usage by colonies from smaller and larger offspring may be driving these community-level effects.

Our results suggest that offspring size is an important but unexplored source of ecological variation and that life-history theory must accommodate the effects of offspring size on com- munity assembly. Life-history theory often assumes that environmental variation drives intra- specific variation in offspring size, and our results show that the converse can also occur.

Full paper

Davis K, Marshall DJ (2014) Offspring size in a resident species affects community assembly. Journal of Animal Ecology, 83, 322–331 PDF PDF 274 KB doi:10.1111/1365-2656.12136

Interspecific competition alters non-linear selection on offspring size in the field

Authors: Dustin J Marshall and Keyne Monro

Published in: Evolution, volume 67, issue 2 (February 2013) doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2012.01749.x


Offspring size is one of the most important life-history traits with consequences for both the ecology and evolution of most organisms. Surprisingly, formal estimates of selection on offspring size are rare, and the degree to which selection (particularly nonlinear selection) varies among environments remains poorly explored.

We estimate linear and nonlinear selection on offspring size, module size, and senescence rate for a sessile marine invertebrate in the field under three different intensities of interspecific competition. The intensity of competition strongly modified the strength and form of selection acting on offspring size.

We found evidence for differences in nonlinear selection across the three environments.

Our results suggest that the fitness returns of a given offspring size depend simultaneously on their environmental context, and on the context of other offspring traits. Offspring size effects can be more pervasive with regards to their influence on the fitness returns of other traits than previously recognized, and we suggest that the evolution of offspring size cannot be understood in isolation from other traits.

Overall, variability in the form and strength of selection on offspring size in nature may reduce the efficacy of selection on offspring size and maintain variation in this trait.

Full paper

Marshall DJ, Monro K (2013) Interspecific competition alters nonlinear selection on offspring size in the field. Evolution, 67-2: 328–337 PDFPDF 291 KB doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2012.01749.x

Initial offspring size mediates trade-off between fecundity and longevity in the field

Authors: Halil Kesselring, Rebecca Wheatley and Dustin J Marshall

Published in: Marine Ecology Progress Series, volume 465, doi: 10.3354/meps09865


An understanding of the effects of intraspecific variation in offspring size is important from both an ecological and an evolutionary perspective.

While the relationship between off- spring size and overall offspring performance is key, most studies are restricted to examination of the effects of offspring size on early life-history stages only, and too few have examined the effects of offspring size throughout the life history.

Here, we examine the effects of offspring size on post- metamorphic survival, growth, and fecundity under field conditions for the polychaete Janua sp.

Larger offspring became larger adults and had higher levels of fecundity than those from smaller offspring, though the effect on fecundity was weaker and more variable over different experimental runs. Adults derived from larger larvae had shorter lifespans than adults derived from smaller larvae.

Our results suggest that the maternal effect of offspring size can influence the frequently observed trade-off between longevity and fecundity.

Future studies should seek to measure the effects of offspring size over as much of the life history as possible in order to avoid misestimating the relationship between offspring size and fitness.

Full paper

Kesselring H, Wheatley R, Marshall DJ (2012) Initial offspring size mediates trade-off between fecundity and longevity in the field. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 465: 129–136  email for a copy doi: 10.3354/meps09865