Evolutionarily sustainable consumption

While most of the Evolution and Ecology (EEP) Program's studies in the field of exploitation-induced evolution have addressed questions of aquatic food resources and fisheries-induced evolution, the phenomenon of exploitation-induced evolution is relevant for any wild animal or plant population utilized for human consumption.

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Over the past years, EEP’s research on exploitation-induced evolution has steadily assembled evidence that, over time, human exploitation not only changes the abundance of targeted populations but also alters heritable traits of the targets. 

EEP’s research on this topic in 2013 was structured along three different dimensions.  

1. Development of tools for tackling exploitation-induced evolution

EEP continued in 2013 to contribute to the development of analytical tools suitable for tackling exploitation-induced evolution. The new toolbox is reviewed in a forthcoming book edited by scientists in EEP [1]. It includes modeling tools for strategic and tactic evaluations (eco-genetic models and adaptive dynamics models [2] [3]); and statistical tools for analyzing trends in exploited fish stocks [4].  

The development of methods to estimate fisheries-induced selection differentials is under way in the Working Group on Fisheries-Induced Evolution, operating under the auspices of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea which is co-chaired by EEP scientists and located in Denmark. 

2. Application of tools to specific case studies

The most recently published case studies related to exploitation-induced evolution cover European whitefish in Austria [5] and sockeye salmon in Alaska [6].

Eco-genetic models have been developed and calibrated for Atlantic cod in the Barents Sea [7] [8] and for plaice in the North Sea [9].  

Specifically, the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, offers the first-ever quantitative analysis of the economic repercussions of fisheries-induced evolution [7].

A study by the same authors assesses the harvest-control rule established by the Norwegian and Russian governments for Northeast Arctic cod (see Figure 1), one of the most valuable of European fish stocks [8].

Figure 1

Figure 1. Comparison of four management policies for fishing Northeast Arctic cod. The current harvest-control rule (HCR) is indicated in gray, and turns out to be very similar to the HCR that optimizes the fishing industry’s profit. In contrast, the welfare-maximizing HCR allows higher quotas, while exploitation under the yield-maximizing HCR turns out to be even more aggressive, taking the stock to such low levels that its robustness to environmental fluctuations would no longer be ensured. The latter is surprising, since it starkly contradicts the widely trusted assumption underlying the current wave of revising fishing policies around the globe that maximizing sustainable yield ensures sustainable consumption.

3. Analysis of open questions on exploitation-induced evolution and its consequences

Novel experimental research assessed the robustness of methods to estimate probabilistic maturation reaction norms [10].

A new method, originally developed by EEP and now in widespread use, contributed to assessing the status and dynamics of fish stocks [11]. 

An analysis was conducted of the challenges involved in testing model-based predictions of fisheries-induced evolution [12].

Integrative models were used for understanding the practical implications of differences between male and female fish for fisheries-induced evolution [13], as well as for assessing the consequences of fisheries-induced evolution for reference points widely employed in national and international fisheries management [14] (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

Figure 2: Fisheries-induced evolution impacts life-history traits and other individual-level properties (a), with repercussions for the demography of fish stocks (b), and for socio-economic indicators of the associated fisheries (c).

At a more fundamental level, investigations have compared proactive and reactive management approaches [15], examined the role of stock diversity in ensuring sustainable fishing practices [16], assessed consequences of alternative harvesting strategies for fisheries sustainability [17], and highlighted the role of overlooked assumptions in growth models [18] and in models of within-season fishery dynamics [19]. 

Finally, simple social experiments were devised for illustrating and disseminating general principles of ecologically and evolutionarily sustainable exploitation to a wider audience and the general public [20].


[1] Dieckmann U, Godø OR & Heino M eds. Fisheries-induced Evolution. Cambridge University Press, UK, in preparation.
[2] Dunlop ES, Heino M & Dieckmann U. Eco-genetic models of fisheries-induced adaptive change. In Dieckmann U, Godø OR & Heino M eds. Fisheries-induced Evolution, Cambridge University Press, UK, in revision.
[3] Ernande B, Dieckmann U & Heino M. The adaptive dynamics of reaction norms. In Dieckmann U, Godø OR & Heino M eds. Fisheries-induced Evolution, Cambridge University Press, UK, in revision.
[4] Heino M, Ernande B & Dieckmann U. Reaction-norm analysis of fisheries-induced adaptive change. In Dieckmann U, Godø OR & Heino M eds. Fisheries-induced Evolution, Cambridge University Press, UK, in revision – b.
[5] Ficker H, Mazzucco R, Gassner H, Wanzenböck J & Dieckmann U (2014). Fish length exclusively determines sexual maturation in the European whitefish Coregonus lavaretus species complex. Journal of Fish Biology, in press. doi: 10.1111/jfb.12301.
[6] Kendall NW, Dieckmann U, Heino M, Punt AE & Quinn TP (2014). Evolution of age and length at maturation of Alaskan salmon under size-selective harvest. Evolutionary Applications 7: 313–322.
[7] Eikeset AM, Richter A, Dunlop ES, Dieckmann U & Stenseth NC (2013). Economic repercussions of fisheries-induced evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 110: 12259–12264.
[8] Eikeset AM, Richter AP, Dankel DJ, Dunlop ES, Heino M, Dieckmann U & Stenseth NC (2013). A bio-economic analysis of harvest control rules for the Northeast Arctic cod fishery. Marine Policy 39: 172–181.
[9] Mollet FM, Dieckmann U & Rijnsdorp AD. Reconstructing the effects of fishing on life history evolution in North Sea plaice (Pleuronectes platessa), in revision – a.
[10] Diaz Pauli B & Heino M (2013). The importance of social dimension and maturation stage for the probabilistic maturation reaction norm in Poecilia reticulata. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 26: 2184–2196.
[11] Heino M (2014). Quantitative traits. In Cadrin SX, Kerr LA & Mariani S eds. Stock Identification Methods: Applications in Fishery Science, 2nd edition, Academic Press, Waltham, USA, pp. 59–76.
[12] Diaz Pauli B & Heino M (2014). What can selection experiments teach us about fisheries-induced evolution? Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, in press. doi: 10.1111/bij.12241.
[13] Mollet FM, Enberg K, Boukal DS, Rijnsdorp AD & Dieckmann U. An evolutionary explanation of female-biased sexual size dimorphism in North Sea plaice, Pleuronectes platessa L., in revision – b.
[14] Heino M, Baulier L, Boukal DS, Ernande B, Johnston FD, Mollet FM, Pardoe H, Therkildsen NO, Uusi-Heikkila S, Vainikka A, Arlinghaus R, Dankel DJ, Dunlop ES, Eikeset AM, Enberg K, Engelhard GH, Jorgensen C, Laugen AT, Matsumura S, Nussle S, Urbach D, Whitlock R, Rijnsdorp AD & Dieckmann U (2013). Can fisheries-induced evolution shift reference points for fisheries management? ICES Journal of Marine Science 70: 707–721.
[15] Liu XZ & Heino M (2013). Comparing proactive and reactive management: Managing a transboundary fish stock under changing environment. Natural Resource Modeling 26: 480–504.
[16] Heino M, Johansen T, Berg E, Aglen A, Svåsand T, Dahle G & Jørstad KE. The dark side of biocomplexity: Consequences of highly variable life history of Norwegian coastal cod for sustainable exploitation, submitted.
[17] Meng XZ, Lundstrom NLP, Bodin M & Brännström Å (2013). Dynamics and management of stage-structured fish stocks. Bulletin of Mathematical Biology 75: 1–23.
[18] Boukal DS, Dieckmann U, Enberg K, Heino M & Jørgensen C (2014). Life-history implications of the allometric scaling of growth, in revision.
[19] Liu XZ & Heino M (2014). Overlooked biological and economic implications of within-season fishery dynamics. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 71: 181–188.
[20] Diaz Pauli B & Heino M (2013). Ecological and evolutionary effects of harvesting: Lessons from the candy-fish experiment. ICES Journal of Marine Science 70: 1281–1286.


International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. (ICES)

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Last edited: 22 May 2014


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