From genes to populations: how fisheries-induced evolution alters stock productivity

Erin S. Dunlop, Anne Maria Eikeset, and Nils C. Stenseth


By removing individuals with certain heritable characteristics such as large body size, harvesting may induce rapid evolutionary change in fish life history. There is controversy, however, as to the prevalence of fisheries-induced evolution (FIE) and to what extent it should be considered as part of sustainable resource management. Recent research has shown that FIE can be difficult to detect and its economic effects might not always be significant. Here, we show how population growth rate (r), a critical factor affecting sustainability and recovery, is affected by FIE through the analysis of a simulation model that demonstrates the link between individual-level genetic processes and stock dynamics. We examine how different levels of evolvability, fishing intensity, and density-dependence interact to influence r in three commercially harvested species: Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis), and yellow perch (Perca flavescens). We demonstrate that at low harvest levels, evolution has minimal effect on r for all three species. However, at the harvest rates experienced by many fish stocks, evolution increases r and reduces the risk of collapse for cod and whitefish. During the initial stages of a harvest moratorium, a switch occurs, and r becomes reduced as a consequence of evolution. These results explain how evolution increases stock resilience, but also impedes recovery after periods of intense harvesting.


In Ecological Applications 25:1860–1868


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Published Oct. 27, 2015 2:35 PM