The role of fecundity and reproductive effort in defining life history strategies of North American freshwater mussels

  • Authors: Haag, Wendell R.
  • Publication Year: 2013
  • Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
  • Source: Biological Reviews 88:745–766


Selection is expected to optimize reproductive investment resulting in characteristic trade-offs among traits such as brood size, offspring size, somatic maintenance, and lifespan; relative patterns of energy allocation to these functions are important in defining life-history strategies. Freshwater mussels are a diverse and imperiled component of aquatic ecosystems, but little is known about their life-history strategies, particularly patterns of fecundity and reproductive effort. Because mussels have an unusual life cycle in which larvae (glochidia) are obligate parasites on fishes, differences in host relationships are expected to influence patterns of reproductive output among species. I investigated fecundity and reproductive effort (RE) and their relationships to other life-history traits for a taxonomically broad cross section of North American mussel diversity. Annual fecundity of North American mussel species spans nearly four orders of magnitude, ranging from <2000 to 10 million, but most species have considerably lower fecundity than previous generalizations, which portrayed the group as having uniformly high fecundity (e.g. >200000). Estimates of RE also were highly variable, ranging among species from 0.06 to 25.4%.Median fecundity and RE differed among phylogenetic groups, but patterns for these two traits differed in several ways. For example, the tribe Anodontini had relatively low median fecundity but had the highest RE of any group. Within and among species, body size was a strong predictor of fecundity and explained a high percentage of variation in fecundity among species. Fecundity showed little relationship to other life-history traits including glochidial size, lifespan, brooding strategies, or host strategies. The only apparent trade-off evident among these traits was the extraordinarily high fecundity of Leptodea, Margaritifera, and Truncilla, which may come at a cost of greatly reduced glochidial size; there was no relationship between fecundity and glochidial size for the remaining 61 species in the dataset. In contrast to fecundity, RE showed evidence of a strong trade-off with lifespan, which was negatively related to RE. The raw number of glochidia produced may be determined primarily by physical and energetic constraints rather than selection for optimal output based on differences in host strategies or other traits. By integrating traits such as body size, glochidial size, and fecundity, RE appears more useful in defining mussel life-history strategies. Combined with trade-offs between other traits such as growth, lifespan, and age at maturity, differences in RE among species depict a broad continuum of divergent strategies ranging from strongly r-selected species (e.g. tribe Anodontini and some Lampsilini) to K -selected species (e.g. tribes Pleurobemini and Quadrulini; family Margaritiferidae). Future studies of reproductive effort in an environmental and life-history context will be useful for understanding the explosive radiation of this group of animals in North America and will aid in the development of effective conservation strategies.

  • Citation: Haag, Wendell R. 2013. The role of fecundity and reproductive effort in defining life-history strategies of North American freshwater mussels. Biological Reviews 88:745–766.
  • Keywords: life history, trade-off, fecundity, reproduction, glochidia, unionidae, margaritiferidae, unionoida.
  • Posted Date: September 20, 2013
  • Modified Date: May 22, 2014
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