Invertebrate life-history trade-offs and dispersal across a pond-permanence gradient
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Ecology
Flexible life-history traits and dispersal may allow generalist populations to persist across a range of habitats despite experiencing contrasting selection pressures. Invertebrates exploiting temporary ponds must develop quickly and disperse as adults, or have wide environmental tolerances. Conversely, permanent-pond invertebrates must avoid a suite of predators (e.g., fish and dragonflies). This gradient of pond permanence can result in life-history trade-offs that influence fitness, population dynamics, and genetic structure. In addition, recruitment between habitats may balance juvenile life-history trade-offs and be crucial to sustain generalist invertebrate populations in ponds with unpredictable hydrology. Through a multi-year survey of three pond complexes in the Canterbury high-country and a series of mesocosm experiments using two generalist pond invertebrates, Xanthocnemis zealandica damselflies and Sigara arguta waterboatmen, I found these two species had alternative life-history strategies that influenced their distributions across the pond-permanence gradient. With longer juvenile development, X. zealandica benefited from flexible life-history traits: temporary-pond X. zealandica had accelerated development and short-term desiccation tolerance, but were excluded from ponds with long dry periods, whereas, permanent-pond X. zealandica had extended development and predator avoidance behaviours (e.g., reduced movement and refuge-use). In contrast, S. arguta had an opportunistic life-history strategy with a fixed, rapid development response that allowed them to inhabit more temporary ponds, but they were intolerant of drying and limited to permanent ponds that contained shallow refuges from fish. These results illustrate how alternative life-history strategies enabled two generalist species to achieve broad realised niches. Recruitment between habitats also appeared to be important for balancing trade-offs and maintaining meta-populations across the pond-permanence gradient. To evaluate the importance of X. zealandica dispersal among and within pond complexes I used microsatellite analyses. While there was unique genetic population structure between the North and South Islands, at lower spatial scales there was little variability in genetic diversity and limited genetic structure in populations, likely due to gene flow among different habitat types. Overall, this work shows how an interaction of juvenile strategies and adult dispersal could reduce life-history trade-offs, resulting in weak selection pressures across an unpredictable disturbance gradient. Whether increasingly unpredictable hydrological patterns under climate-warming favour generalist species will likely depend on how well generalist life-history traits and dispersal allow exploitation of a range of habitat types and resilience to variable selection pressures. Higher mean summer rainfall in New Zealand may allow both species to exploit more temporary ponds, whereas longer dry periods between extreme precipitation events could limit X. zealandica distributions. Thus, species with generalist strategies are likely to be favoured under warming, but their specific life-history strategies will likely promote or limit their ability to exploit more unpredictable habitats.