Fishing is widely known to magnify fluctuations in targeted populations. These fluctuations are correlated with population shifts towards young, small, and more quickly maturing individuals. However, the existence and nature of the mechanistic basis for these correlations and their potential ecosystem impacts remain highly uncertain. Here, we elucidate this basis and associated impacts by showing how fishing can increase fluctuations in fishes and their ecosystem, particularly when coupled with decreasing body sizes and advancing maturation characteristic of the life-history changes induced by fishing. More specifically, using an empirically parameterized network model of a well-studied lake ecosystem, we show how fishing may both increase fluctuations in fish abundances and also, when accompanied by decreasing body size of adults, further decrease fish abundance and increase temporal variability of fishes' food resources and their ecosystem. In contrast, advanced maturation has relatively little effect except to increase variability in juvenile populations. Our findings illustrate how different mechanisms underlying life-history changes that may arise as evolutionary responses to intensive, size-selective fishing can rapidly and continuously destabilize and degrade ecosystems even after fishing has ceased. This research helps better predict how life-history changes may reduce fishes' resilience to fishing and ecosystems' resistance to environmental variations.
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