, Volume 141, Issue 1, pp 139-147
Date: 28 Jul 2004

Induced defences in an endangered amphibian in response to an introduced snake predator

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Introduced species have contributed significantly to the extinction of endemic species on islands. They also create new selection pressures on their prey that may result in modified life history strategies. Introduced viperine snakes (Natrix maura) have been implicated in the decline of the endemic midwife toad of Mallorca (Alytes muletensis). A comparison of A. muletensis tadpoles in natural pools with and without snakes showed that those populations subject to snake predation possessed longer tails with narrower tail fins but deeper tail muscles. Field and laboratory experiments showed that these changes in tail morphology could be induced by chemical and tactile cues from snakes. Populations of tadpoles that were subject to snake predation also displayed clear bimodal size-frequency distributions, with intermediate-sized tadpoles missing from the pools completely. Tadpoles in pools frequented by snakes developed faster in relation to their body size than those in pools without snakes. Variation in morphology between toad populations may therefore be caused by a combination of size-selective predation and tadpole plasticity. The results of this study indicate that the introduction of alien species can result in selection for induced defences, which may facilitate coexistence between predator and prey under certain conditions.