Who will become dominant? Investigating the roles of individual behaviour, body size, and environmental predictability in brown trout fry hierarchies

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Abstract

This paper presents a study investigating performance of brown trout fry, with different behavioural characteristics, in environments differing in food predictability. Based on previous experimental findings, we hypothesised that more active individuals would be favoured by a predictable environment, as compared to an unpredictable environment, as a consequence of being more aggressive and likely to dominate the best feeding stations. This hypothesis was not supported, as more active individuals instead tended to perform better, in terms of growth and survival, in unpredictable environments. However, this effect may stem from initial size differences, as more active fish also tended to be larger. In predictable environments, no trends between activity (or size) and performance were detected. Dominant individuals could be identified based on lighter body colouration in 9 out of 10 rearing tanks, but dominance appeared not to be related to activity score. The results highlight a potential advantage of more active and/or larger fry in unpredictable environments, while performance in predictable environments is likely depending on other phenotypic characteristics. Our general experimental approach can be useful for further developments in the investigation of performance of different ethotypes of brown trout fry.

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