Sink or swim: a test of tadpole behavioral responses to predator cues and potential alarm pheromones from skin secretions
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- Maag, N., Gehrer, L. & Woodhams, D.C. J Comp Physiol A (2012) 198: 841. doi:10.1007/s00359-012-0750-1
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Chemical signaling is a vital mode of communication for most organisms, including larval amphibians. However, few studies have determined the identity or source of chemical compounds signaling amphibian defensive behaviors, in particular, whether alarm pheromones can be actively secreted from tadpoles signaling danger to conspecifics. Here we exposed tadpoles of the common toad Bufo bufo and common frog Rana temporaria to known cues signaling predation risk and to potential alarm pheromones. In both species, an immediate reduction in swimming activity extending over an hour was caused by chemical cues from the predator Aeshna cyanea (dragonfly larvae) that had been feeding on conspecific tadpoles. However, B. bufo tadpoles did not detectably alter their behavior upon exposure to potential alarm pheromones, neither to their own skin secretions, nor to the abundant predator-defense peptide bradykinin. Thus, chemicals signaling active predation had a stronger effect than general alarm secretions of other common toad tadpoles. This species may invest in a defensive strategy alternative to communication by alarm pheromones, given that Bufonidae are toxic to some predators and not known to produce defensive skin peptides. Comparative behavioral physiology of amphibian alarm responses may elucidate functional trade-offs in pheromone production and the evolution of chemical communication.