Abstract

Invasive predators can cause substantial evolutionary change in native prey populations. Although invasions by predators typically occur over large scales, their distributions are usually characterized by substantial spatiotemporal heterogeneity that can lead to patchiness in the response of native prey species. Our ability to understand how local variation shapes patterns of inducible defense expression has thus far been limited by insufficient replication of populations within regions. Here, we examined local and regional variation in the inducible defenses of 12 native marine snail (Littorina obtusata) populations within two geographic regions in the Gulf of Maine that are characterized by vastly different contact histories with the invasive predatory green crab (Carcinus maenas). When exposed in the field to waterborne risk cues from the green crab for 90 days, snails expressed plastic increases in shell thickness that reduced their vulnerability to this shell-crushing predator. Despite significant differences in contact history with this invasive predator, snail populations from both regions produced similar levels of shell thickness and shell thickness plasticity in response to risk cues. Such phenotypic similarity emerged even though there were substantial geographic differences in the shell thickness of juvenile snails at the beginning of the experiment, and we suggest that it may reflect the effects of warming ocean temperatures and countergradient variation. Consistent with plasticity theory, a trend in our results suggests that southern snail populations, which have a longer contact history with the green crab, paid less in the form of reduced tissue mass for thicker shells than northern populations.

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