Indexed on: 05 Mar '16Published on: 05 Mar '16Published in: Oecologia
The colonisation of new environments is a central evolutionary process, yet why species make such transitions often remains unknown because of the difficulty in empirically investigating potential mechanisms. The most likely explanation for transitions to new environments is that doing so conveys survival benefits, either in the form of an ecological release or new ecological opportunity. Life history theory makes explicit predictions about how traits linked to survival and reproduction should change with shifts in age-specific mortality. We used these predictions to examine whether a current colonisation of land by fishes might convey survival benefits. We found that blenny species with more terrestrial lifestyles exhibited faster reproductive development and slower growth rates than species with more marine lifestyles; a life history trade off that is consistent with the hypothesis that mortality has become reduced in younger life stages on land. A plausible explanation for such a shift is that an ecological release or opportunity on land has conveyed survival benefits relative to the ancestral marine environment. More generally, our study illustrates how life history theory can be leveraged in novel ways to formulate testable predictions on why organisms might make transitions into novel environments.