Dwarf individuals are observed in many species of freshwater fish. This paper studies the potential causes of such stunted growth. We present a model which describes the effect of growth conditions on the age- and size- structure of fish populations. The model parameters are chosen to characterize a Eurasian perch population. Two possible causes of stunting are identified: resource limitation and size- or age-dependent survival probabilities. While the former mechanism often arises from intraspecific density dependence, the latter is of particular relevance in the context of interspecific interactions and fishing. After evaluating the immediate ecological consequences of these factors, we examine the potential for life-history adaptations in stunted fish populations. Interactions between the ecological and adaptive mechanisms of stunting are shown to be intricate: not only does the age at maturity of individuals affect their growth trajectories, but, in addition, alterations in growth conditions can result in different adaptively stable ages at maturity. We show that such adaptive responses can either alleviate or amplify stunting caused by ecological factors. Life-history adaptation may also lead to the persistence of stunting when ecological factors alone would allow for normal growth. an appreciation of the interplay between ecological and adaptive factors therefore is critical for understanding the causes and mechanisms of stunted growth.
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