Morphological differences between habitats are associated with physiological and behavioural trade-offs in stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus)

F. Seebacher, M. M. Webster, Rob S. James, Jason Tallis, A. J. W. Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
37 Downloads (Pure)


Local specialisation can be advantageous for individuals, and may increase the resilience of the species to environmental change. However, there may be trade-offs between morphological responses and physiological performance and behaviour. Our aim was to test whether habitat-specific morphology of stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) interacts with physiological performance and behaviour at different salinities. We rejected the hypothesis that deeper body shape of fish from habitats with high predation pressure led to decreases in locomotor performance. However, there was a trade-off between deeper body shape and muscle quality. Muscle of deeper-bodied fish produced less force than that of shallow-bodied saltmarsh fish. Nonetheless, saltmarsh fish had lower swimming performance, presumably because of lower muscle mass overall coupled with smaller caudal peduncles and larger heads. Saltmarsh fish performed better in saline water (20 ppt) relative to freshwater, and relative to fish from freshwater habitats. However, exposure to salinity affected shoaling behaviour of fish from all habitats, and shoals moved faster and closer together compared to freshwater. We show that habitat modification can alter phenotypes of native species, but local morphological specialisation is associated with trade-offs that may reduce its benefits.
Original languageEnglish
Article number160316
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Early online date1 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016

Bibliographical note

Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.


  • population
  • locomotor performance
  • salinity
  • social behaviour
  • muscle


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