Effects of adoption of freshwater residency on life-history ecology of terapontid grunters

Aaron M. Davis, Bradley J. Pusey, Ricardo Betancur-R

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1 Citation (Scopus)


While fish reproduction has played a critical role in development of life-history theory, the collective effects of a marine-to-freshwater invasion on a clade's reproductive ecology have rarely been explored in a phylogenetic context. We analysed and compared a range of quantitative and qualitative components of reproductive ecology in the Australasian terapontid fishes, a family distributed widely across marine, estuarine and freshwater habitats in the Indo-Pacific region. We specifically tested hypotheses that life-history strategies such as larger egg sizes and reduced fecundities are a key characteristic of freshwater species in comparison with their close marine relatives, and also fit a range of currently available evolutionary models describing the processes of ecomorphological and macrohabitat-related diversification. Using recently developed phylogenetic comparative methods, differences in several quantitative reproductive traits were evident between marine and freshwater species, with reductions in average fecundity and increases in average egg size specifically characterising freshwater species. Evolutionary modelling of major trait axes, as well as specific traits across the family, highlighted significant increases in rates of evolutionary diversification across both freshwater lineages and within freshwater subclades. Modelling also supported the evolution of distinctive morpho-ecotype optima between marine and freshwater species over simpler models of random-walk evolution or single morphological optima. Review of life-history behaviour identified environmental stimuli related to photoperiod, temperature, and lunar-tidal cycles (and possibly combinations thereof) as playing an important role in stimulating spawning behaviour in most marine–euryhaline species. While some of these variables (temperature and photoperiod) continue to play an important role in some freshwater species, flow regime, particularly streamflow increases, appear more important in stimulating spawning responses, underlining the role of flow regime emerging as a master variable shaping evolutionary trajectories in freshwater clades. In this review and meta-analysis, we document that adaptation to an entirely freshwater existence has catalysed significant, and in several cases, relatively rapid adaptive evolution to very different life-history strategies within freshwater species. The invasion of freshwaters has had profound impacts on the trajectory of terapontid life-history evolution, driving significant changes in a range of traits relating to fecundity, egg size, spawning stimuli, and spawning substratum. Collective results suggest a distinct adaptive landscape difference between marine and freshwaters. Terapontids can provide a useful model for assessing the consistency of these outcomes with other freshwater-invading groups.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1139-1152
Number of pages14
JournalFreshwater Biology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


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