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The trade-off between growth rate and locomotor performance varies with perceived time until breeding

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Environmental circumstances can cause changes in early growth patterns that subsequently affect the adult phenotype. Here we investigated how different growth trajectories affected subsequent locomotor performance, and how such effects were influenced by the perceived time until the key life-history event of reproduction. Using juvenile three-spined sticklebacks Gasterosteus aculeatus, we show that a brief period of manipulated temperature in early life (independent of food supply) caused effects on skeletal growth trajectory not only during the manipulation itself, but also during a subsequent compensatory phase. The outcome of these changes was that fish in all treatment groups reached the same average size by sexual maturity, despite having different growth patterns. However, their growth trajectory had impacts on both pre-breeding swimming endurance and its decline over the course of the breeding season, such that swimming ability was negatively correlated with skeletal growth rate during the compensation period. We also show for the first time that negative compensation' (i.e. a decelerating growth trajectory) led to an improved swimming performance compared with steadily growing controls. Replicate experiments and photoperiod manipulations, moreover, revealed that the effects of growth rate on subsequent swimming performance were greater when the perceived time until the breeding season was shorter. These results show that the costs of accelerated or decelerated growth can last well beyond the time over which growth rates differ, and are affected by the time available until an approaching life history event such as reproduction, possibly because of the time available to repair the damage

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