Abstract

Natural and anthropogenic eutrophication can increase food supply to basal consumers in aquatic food webs. All else being equal, increased food supply is expected to relax life history trade-offs between egg size and number, resulting in a reduction in egg size over time as individuals that produce more numerous, small eggs exhibit greater fitness. We tested this hypothesis by comparing the sizes of larval shells (PI) of the marine bivalve Nuculana acuta in living and death assemblages collected from surficial seafloor sediments on the Alabama continental shelf; PI size is positively correlated with egg size and can be measured from adult shells. We found that the mean PI size of living N. acuta was approximately three microns smaller than that of the associated death assemblage and that this difference was robust to potential taphonomic biases. This life history shift occurred relatively recently as no trend exists in PI size over the past 3100 years. The live-dead disagreement that we observed is consistent with the history of anthropogenic eutrophication in the Mississippi Bight. These data provide a baseline for comparison with other regions in the Gulf of Mexico that have more sustained histories of anthropogenic eutrophication. More broadly, live-dead comparisons of molluscan life history coupled with age dating of molluscan shells can complement community-level metrics when assessing the impacts of anthropogenic eutrophication on coastal ecosystems, and offer a unique study system for investigating life history adaptation in a field context.

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