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Costs and compensation in zooplankton pigmentation under countervailing threats of ultraviolet radiation and predation.


Evolutionary responses to opposing directions of natural selection include trade-offs, where the phenotype balances selective forces, and compensation, where other traits reduce the impact of one selective force. Zooplankton pigmentation protects from ultraviolet radiation (UVR) but attracts visual predators. This trade-off is understudied in the ocean where planktonic larvae in surface waters face ubiquitous UVR and visual predation threats. We tested whether crab larvae can behaviorally reduce UVR risk through downward swimming or expansion of photoprotective chromatophores. Then we examined whether more pigmented larvae are more heavily predated by silverside fish under natural sunlight in the tropics in three UVR treatments (visible light, visible + UVA, visible + UVA + UVB). Lastly, we tested the behavioral chromatophore response of larvae to predation threats in two light treatments. Armases ricordi avoided surface waters after exposure to sunlight with UVR. Armases ricordi, Armases americanum, and Eurypanopeus sp. consistently expanded chromatophores in UVR or visible light, while Mithraculus sculptus and Mithraculus coryphe showed no response. Fish preferred pigmented larvae on sunnier days in visible light lacking UVR. Lastly, both M. coryphe and M. sculptus unexpectedly expanded chromatophores in fish cues, but responses were inconsistent over trials and across light treatments. The more consistent larval responses to UVR than to predator cues and the lack of predator preferences in natural light conditions suggest that UVR may have a stronger influence on pigmentation than predation. This study improves our understanding of planktonic adaptation to countervailing selection caused by visual predation and exposure to UVR.

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