Polar Biology

, Volume 41, Issue 4, pp 643–651 | Cite as

Life history variation across latitudes: observations between capelin (Mallotus villosus) from Newfoundland and the eastern Canadian Arctic

  • D. G. McNicholl
  • G. K. Davoren
  • J. D. Reist
Original Paper


Life history trait variation within a species promotes regional-specific strategies that optimize fitness in a particular environment. Capelin (Mallotus villosus) is an important forage fish species with a circumpolar, temperate distribution, but has increased in relative abundance in Arctic regions recently. To examine for region-specific life history strategies, we compared life history characteristics (length, body condition, age of sexual maturity and growth) of spawning male capelin collected from the eastern Canadian Arctic, in Pangnirtung Fjord, Nunavut (66°N; July 2014 and June–July 2015) with a sub-Arctic location on the northeast coast of Newfoundland (49°N; July 2014 and 2015). First year growth was higher for sub-Arctic relative to Arctic capelin. In contrast, body condition (regression of total length versus mass) was lower for capelin in the Arctic compared to the sub-Arctic population. The age structure of spawning males suggested that Newfoundland capelin reached sexual maturity earlier, as the youngest spawners in Newfoundland were age 2+ (median age: 3+) relative to Pangnirtung where the median spawning age was 4+ (maximum age 5+). Overall, Arctic capelin were generally characterized by lower growth, especially in the first year, later age of reproduction, and lower body condition, relative to the sub-Arctic population. These differences may be the result of limited gene flow on the northern margins of this species’ geographical distribution. They also support previously reported genetic distinction among the sub-Arctic and Arctic clades in the North Atlantic.


Capelin Climate change Life history trait variation Spawning ecology 



We thank R. Tallman for aid in sampling and support for fishes collected in Pangnirtung, and members of the Davoren Lab, University of Manitoba for assistance with sampling fishes collected in Newfoundland. This project is supported by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Discovery Grant (GKD) and annual Ship Time Grants (GKD) along with annual University of Manitoba Faculty of Science Field Work Support Grants (GKD) and a University of Manitoba Faculty of Science Scholarship to DGM.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

Animal specimens used in this study were processed in compliance with an approved animal care permit under the guidelines of the Canadian Council on Animal Care.


  1. Bailey W (1957) Oceanographic features of the Canadian Archipelago. J Fish Board Canada 14:731–769CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bergmann C (1847) Über die Verhältnisse der Wärmeökonomie der Thiere zu ihrer Grösse. Gott Stud 1:595–708Google Scholar
  3. Bevertron RJH (1987) Longevity in fish: some ecological and evolutionary considerations. In: Woodhead AD, Thompson KH (eds) Evolution of longevity in animals: a comparative approach. Springer, Boston, pp 161–185CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blanck A, Lamouroux N (2007) Large-scale intraspecific variation in life-history traits of European freshwater fish. J Biogeogr 34:862–875. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Campana SE (1990) How reliable are growth back-calculations based on otoliths? Can J Fish Aquat Sci 47:2219–2227. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Carroll S, Hendry AP, Reznick DN, Fox CW (2007) Evolution on ecological time-scales. Funct Ecol 21:387–393CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carscadden JE, Gjøsæter H, Vilhjálmsson H (2013a) A comparison of recent changes in distribution of capelin (Mallotus villosus) in the Barents Sea, around Iceland and in the Northwest Atlantic. Prog Oceanogr 114:64–83. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Carscadden JE, Gjøsæter H, Vilhjálmsson H (2013b) Recruitment in the Barents Sea, Icelandic, and eastern Newfoundland/Labrador capelin (Mallotus villosus) stocks. Prog Oceanogr 114:84–96. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Charnov EL, Berrigan D (1991) Dimensionless numbers and the assembly rules for life histories. Philos Trans Biol Sci 332:41–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Christiansen JS, Præbel K, Siikavuopio SI, Carscadden JE (2008) Facultative semelparity in capelin Mallotus villosus (Osmeridae)-an experimental test of a life history phenomenon in a sub-arctic fish. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 360:47–55. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Clutton-Brock TH (1984) Reproductive effort and terminal investment in iteroparous animals. Am Nat 123:212–229CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Daase M, Falk-Petersen S, Varpe Ø et al (2013) Timing of reproductive events in the marine copepod Calanus glacialis: a pan-Arctic perspective. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 70:871–884. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dodson JJ, Tremblay S, Colombani F et al (2007) Trans-Arctic dispersals and the evolution of a circumpolar marine fish species complex, the capelin (Mallotus villosus). Mol Ecol 16:5030–5043. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Dunbar M (1951) Eastern arctic waters: a summary of our present knowledge of the physical oceanography of the eastern arctic area, from Hudson Bay to Cape Farewell and from Belle Isle to Smith Sound. Fisheries Research Board of CanadaGoogle Scholar
  15. Eckert AJ, Carstens BC (2008) Does gene flow destroy phylogenetic signal? The performance of three methods for estimating species phylogenies in the presence of gene flow. Mol Phylogenet Evol 49:832–842. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Flynn SR, Nakashima BS, Burton MPM (2001) Direct assessment of post-spawning survival of female capelin, Mallotus villosus. J Mar Biol Assoc UK 81:307–312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gaston AJ, Woo K, Hipfner JM (2003) Trends in forage fish populations in northern Hudson Bay since 1981, as determined from the diet of nestling thick-billed murres Uria lomvia. Arctic 56:227–233CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gjøsæter H (1984) Standard sampling procedure for Barents Sea capelin. A description of standard sampling technique and methods applied to improve the representativeness of the samples. In: the proceedings of the soviet-Norwegian symposium on the Barents Sea capelin, pp. 119–134Google Scholar
  19. Gjøsæter H (1998) The population biology and exploitation of capelin (Mallotus villosus) in the Barents Sea. Sarsia 83:453–496CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gjøsæter H (1999) Studies on the Barents Sea Capelin (Mallotus villosus Müller), with emphasis on growth. Thesis, University of BergenGoogle Scholar
  21. Gjøsæter H, Loeng H (1987) Growth of the Barents Sea capelin, Mallotus villosus, in relation to climate. Environ Biol Fishes 20:293–300Google Scholar
  22. Gjøsæter H, Dalpadado P, Hassel A (2002) Growth of Barents Sea capelin (Mallotus villosus) in relation to zooplankton abundance. J Mar Sci 59:959–967. Google Scholar
  23. Hassel A, Skjoldal H, Gjøsæter H et al (1991) Impact of grazing from capelin (Mallotus villosus) on zooplankton: a case study in the northern Barents Sea in August 1985. Polar Res 10:371–388. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hedeholm R, Grønkjær P, Rysgaard S (2010) Variation in size and growth of West Greenland capelin (Mallotus villosus) along latitudinal gradients. ICES J Mar Sci 67:1128–1137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hjermann DØ, Stenseth NC, Ottersen G (2004) Indirect climatic forcing of the Barents Sea capelin: a cohort effect. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 273:229–238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Huse G (1998) Sex-specific life history strategies in capelin (Mallotus villosus). Can J Fish Aquat Sci 55:631–638CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hutchings JA, Fraser DJ (2008) The nature of fisheries- and farming-induced evolution. Mol Ecol 17:294–313. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Jørgensen C, Enberg K, Dunlop ES et al (2007) Managing evolving fish stocks. Science 318:1247–1248. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Loeng H (1989) The influence of temperature on some fish population parameters in the Barents Sea. J Northw Atl Fish Sci 9:103–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Marcoux M, Mcmeans BC, Fisk AT, Ferguson SH (2012) Composition and temporal variation in the diet of beluga whales, derived from stable isotopes. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 471:283–291. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Maxner E, Halden NM, Roth JD, Davoren GK (2016) Intrinsic factors influence the timing of arrival of capelin (Mallotus villosus) to spawning grounds in coastal Newfoundland. Fish Res 179:202–212. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mowbray FK (2002) Changes in the vertical distribution of capelin (Mallotus villosus) off Newfoundland. ICES J Mar Sci 59:942–949. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. O’Driscoll RL, Parsons MJD, George AR (2001) Feeding of capelin (Mallotus villosus) in Newfoundland waters. Sarsia 86(3):165–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Penton PM, Davoren GK, Montevecchi WA, Andrews DW (2012) Beach and demersal spawning in capelin (Mallotus villosus) on the northeast Newfoundland coast: egg developmental rates and mortality. Can J Zool 90:248–256. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Petrie B, Akenhead SA, Lazier SA, Loder J (1988) The cold intermediate layer on the Labrador and Northeast Newfoundland Shelves, 1978–86. NAFO Sci Counc Stud 12:57–69Google Scholar
  36. Præbel K, Westgaard JI, Fevolden SE, Christiansen JS (2008) Circumpolar genetic population structure of capelin Mallotus villosus. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 360:189–199. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Resetarits W (1996) Oviposition site choice and life history evolution. Am Zool 36:205–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rose GA (2005) Capelin (Mallotus villosus) distribution and climate: a sea “‘canary’” for marine ecosystem change. ICES J Mar Sci 62:1524–1530. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Schaffer WM (1974) Optimal reproductive effort in fluctuating environments. Am Nat 108:783–790CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Schindler DE, Hilborn R, Chasco B et al (2010) Population diversity and the portfolio effect in an exploited species. Nature 465:609–612. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Sexton JP, Mcintyre PJ, Angert AL, Rice KJ (2009) Evolution and ecology of species range limits. Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 40:415–436. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Shackell NL, Shelton PA, Hoenig JM, Carscadden JE (1994) Age- and sex-specific survival of Northern Grand Bank capelin (Mallotus villosus). Can J Fish Aquat Sci 51:642–649CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Stearns SC (1976) Life-history tactics: a review of the ideas. Q Rev Biol 51:3–47CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Stearns SC (1992) The evolution of life histories. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  45. Templeman W (1948) The life history of the capelin (Mallotus villosus of Müller) in Newfoundland waters. Research Bulletin of the Newfoundland Government Laboratory. No. 17Google Scholar
  46. Ulrich KL (2013) Trophic ecology of Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus L.) in the Cumberland Sound region of the Canadian Arctic. Thesis, University of ManitobaGoogle Scholar
  47. Vilhjálmsson H (1994) The Icelandic capelin stock: capelin, Mallotus villosus (Müller) in the Iceland-Greenland-Jan Mayen area. Hafrannsóknastofnunin 13:1–201Google Scholar
  48. Weisberg S, Spangler G, Richmond LS (2010) Mixed effects models for fish growth. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 67:269–277. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Winters GH (1971) Fecundity of the left and right ovaries of Grand Bank capelin (Mallotus villosus). J Fish Res Board Canada 28:1029–1033CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Winters GH (1982) Life history and geographical patterns of growth in capelin, Mallotus villosus, of the Labrador and Newfoundland areas. J Northw Atl Fish Sci 3:105–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Yurkowski DJ, Ferguson SH, Semeniuk CAD et al (2016) Spatial and temporal variation of an ice-adapted predator’s feeding ecology in a changing Arctic marine ecosystem. Oecologia 180:631–644. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. G. McNicholl
    • 1
    • 2
  • G. K. Davoren
    • 1
  • J. D. Reist
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada
  2. 2.Freshwater Institute, Fisheries and Oceans CanadaWinnipegCanada

Personalised recommendations