, Volume 134, Issue 4, pp 596-604
Date: 25 Jan 2003

The impact of larval predators and competitors on the morphology and fitness of juvenile treefrogs

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Abstract

Studies of phenotypic plasticity typically focus on traits in single ontogenetic stages. However, plastic responses can be induced in multiple ontogenetic stages and traits induced early in ontogeny may have lasting effects. We examined how gray treefrog larvae altered their morphology in four different larval environments and whether different larval environments affected the survival, growth, development, and morphology of juvenile frogs at metamorphosis. We then reared these juveniles in terrestrial environments under high and low intraspecific competition to determine whether the initial differences in traits at metamorphosis affected subsequent survival and growth, whether the initial phenotypic differences converged over time, and whether competition in the terrestrial environment induced further phenotypic changes. Larval and juvenile environments both affected treefrog traits. Larval predators induced relatively deep tail fins and short bodies, but there was no impact on larval development. In contrast, larval competitors induced relatively short tails and long bodies, reduced larval growth, and slowed larval development. At metamorphosis, larval predators had no effect on juvenile growth or relative morphology while larval competitors produced juveniles that were smaller and possessed relatively shorter limbs and shorter bodies. After 1 month of terrestrial competition among the juvenile frogs, the initial differences in juvenile morphology did not converge. There were no differences in growth due to larval treatment but there were differences in survival. Individuals that experienced low competition as tadpoles experienced near perfect survival as juvenile frogs but individuals that experienced high competition as tadpoles suffered an 18% decrease in survival as juvenile frogs. There were also morphological responses to juvenile competition, but these changes appear to be due, at least in part, to allometric effects. Collectively, these results demonstrate that larval environments can have profound impacts on the traits and fitness of organisms later in ontogeny.