Organismal fitness can be determined at early life-stages, but phenotypic variation at early life-stages is rarely considered in studies on evolutionary diversification. The trophic apparatus has been shown to contribute to sympatric resource-mediated divergence in several taxa. However, processes underlying diversification in trophic traits are poorly understood. Using phenotypically variable Icelandic Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus), we reared offspring from multiple families under standardized laboratory conditions and tested to what extent family (i.e. direct genetic and maternal effects) contributes to offspring morphology at hatching (H) and first feeding (FF). To understand the underlying mechanisms behind early life-stage variation in morphology, we examined how craniofacial shape varied according to family, offspring size, egg size and candidate gene expression.
Craniofacial shape (i.e. the Meckel's cartilage and hyoid arch) was more variable between families than within families both across and within developmental stages. Differences in craniofacial morphology between developmental stages correlated with offspring size, whilst within developmental stages only shape at FF correlated with offspring size, as well as female mean egg size. Larger offspring and offspring from females with larger eggs consistently had a wider hyoid arch and contracted Meckel's cartilage in comparison to smaller offspring.
This study provides evidence for family-level variation in early life-stage trophic morphology, indicating the potential for parental effects to facilitate resource polymorphism.