Intraspecific Behavioural Diversity in a Freshwater Zooplankton: A study of the fitness consequences of vertical migration behaviour for distinct morphs of Daphnia pulicaria
Meyer, G. Adam
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The literature on niche separation and coexistence between species is large, but there is widespread variation in behavioural strategy between individuals of the same species that has received much less attention. Understanding what maintains this diversity is important because intraspecific behavioural diversity can affect population dynamics and community interactions. Multiple behavioural strategies can arise either as phenotype-dependent ‘conditional strategies’, where phenotypic variation causes individuals to adopt different strategies for optimizing fitness, or as internally-independent ‘alternative strategies’, where multiple fitness peaks exist for individuals and strategic ‘choice’ remains plastic. Though intraspecific variation in stable phenotypes is known to maintain intraspecific behavioural diversity through conditional strategies, when internal conditions are highly plastic or reversible, it is not clear whether individual behaviours are maintained as conditional strategies, or as alternative strategies of equal fitness. In this study, I combine an observational and experimental approach to identify the likely mechanisms maintaining behavioural diversity between hemoglobin-rich and hemoglobin-poor morphs in a natural population of Daphnia pulicaria. In Round Lake, individuals with low hemoglobin migrate daily from the hypolimnion to the epilimnion, whereas individuals with high hemoglobin remain in the hypolimnion. Using high-resolution depth and time sampling, I discovered behavioural diversity both within and among hemoglobin phenotypes. I tested the role of hemoglobin phenotype in maintaining behavioural diversity using automated migration robots that move individuals across the natural environmental gradients in the lake. By measuring the fitness of each morph undergoing either a natural migration behaviour, or the migration of the opposite morph, I found that the fitness of hemoglobin rich and poor morphs in their natural behaviour does not differ, but that Hb-rich individuals can obtain equal fitness from either behaviour, while Hb-poor morphs suffer substantial drops in survivorship in the alternate migration behaviour. Thus, migration behaviour in this system exists as a conditional strategy for some individuals, and as alternative strategies of equal fitness for others. The results of this study suggest that individual limits in the expression of highly flexible internal conditions can reinforce intraspecific behavioural diversity. Few studies have measured the fitness consequences of switching migration strategies and this study provides a rare example in the field.