This study focuses on the seasonal accumulation and depletion of somatic energy in the Atlantic silverside (Menidia menidia), an annual estuarine fish. Previous research revealed that northern silversides are subject to strong size-dependent winter mortality, while southern fish suffer no appreciable winter mortality. To examine whether there was geographic differentiation in allocation strategies, we compared temporal patterns of energy storage and utilization among three populations along this gradient in seasonality. The comparative design used monthly or biweekly samples of fish collected in the wild, as well as samples of fish from each population reared in a common environment, where genetic differences can be clarified. Somatic energy stores were quantified via gravimetric analysis of neutral storage lipids and lean tissue. Analysis revealed that small individuals maintained relatively low levels of lipid reserves, which may account for their lower survival in winter. Wild fish in the north rapidly accumulated large somatic reserves, which were depleted over the winter and then increased again during the subsequent spring breeding season. In wild southern fish, relatively small reserves accumulated slowly until breeding commenced in the spring. The common-environment comparison of somatic storage patterns revealed a genetic basis for among-population differences in reserve accumulation rates, but no differences in the amount of reserves stored. We conclude that the overwinter depletion of somatic reserves has a significant selective impact on energy accumulation and allocation strategies in seasonal environments.
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