Compensatory growth is an organism’s reaction to buffer deviations from targeted trajectories. We explored the compensatory patterns of juvenile brown trout under field and laboratory conditions. Divergence of size and condition trajectories was induced by manipulating food levels in the laboratory and then releasing the trout into a river. In the stream, the length trajectories of food-restricted and control fish were parallel, but food-restricted fish exhibited partial compensation for mass and rapid recovery of condition. A laboratory experiment on similar sized fish did not provide evidence for compensatory growth in length or mass. In contrast, data matched the compensatory patterns shown in the stream: length trajectories were parallel and the convergence of mass trajectories ceased as soon as food-restricted fish recovered condition to the level of controls. These results show that (i) brown trout did not compensate for depression in structural growth and (ii) mass recovery was targeted to reinstate condition or energy reserves, but not size at a given age. This does not support the common view that compensatory growth can be a general response to growth depression. Rather, compensation in other salmonids could be related to size thresholds associated with developmental switches at the onset of sexual maturation and migration.
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