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Underwater, the Small and Slow Fare Best

Jan 23, 2015 01:48 PM EST

'Slow and steady' is apparently not just a guide for footraces and fables. Researchers have recently found that among underwater creatures, it's not the quick and large who are likely to survive into old age, but the tiny and slowest growers.

That may sound a little odd. After all, small fish could be prey for more aquatic predators, while big strong fish are less likely to be chosen as targets, lest they fight back. However, according to a study recently published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society: B, in the case of anglers and commercial fishing, small, slow, and hesitant fish and crustaceans are far less likely to be caught.

Researchers Peter Biro and Portia Sampson of Deakin University, Australia recently determined this after observing individual behavior and measuring growth rates of 86 native freshwater crayfish (yabbies). They found that the fastest growing yabbies were also the boldest, and this made them much more likely to live short lives.

"Bold personality traits in these animals was directly related to their capacity to consume food and to grow quickly," Biro explained in a statement. "They were subsequently more likely to be harvested in single- and group-trapping trials."

And while that may be good news for the 'little guys' in a species, the researchers argue that this is actually very bad news for a species' health overall. That's because fishing removes the most fit of a population earlier on, leaving the small and timid to procreate the most.

"In essence, fishing in wild populations does exactly the opposite of what we strive for in agriculture, which is to select for fast growth and high production," Biro said. "Fishing wild populations at high levels will likely select for slow-grower, and low production."

This then emphasizes an important reconsideration of fishery management practices, meaning too much fishing may influence the traits of a population's future generations far more than expected. 'Slow and steady growers,' the researchers argue, may eventually dominate the oceans if overfishing persists.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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