Maternal effects are increasingly being recognized as an important pre-natal source of life history variation in the next generation. The present study uses a field experiment to explore the influence of heterospecific interactions on the reproductive output and offspring characteristics of a common Indo-Pacific damselfish, Pomacentrus amboinensis. On the Great Barrier Reef pairs of breeding P. amboinensis were placed on isolated patch reefs and to half of the pairs resource competitors (other planktivorous damselfishes), and predators of eggs and juveniles were added. Females inhabiting patches with heterospecifics had more aggressive interactions and higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Neither the number of clutches nor number of eggs produced differed among treatments. The size of larvae at hatching was found to be reduced as a result of the stress associated with increased interactions with heterospecific and the transfer of cortisol to offspring. This stress-associated mechanism appears to be an important and directional source of life history variability, but the individual nature of the maternal response is likely to result in a conclusion of a diversified bet hedging reproductive strategy when viewed at the local population level. These findings highlight the complex determinants of individual success and the important role of parental well-being in the population dynamics of the next generation
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