, Volume 152, Issue 3, pp 389-400

First online:

Getting out alive: how predators affect the decision to metamorphose

  • Rick A. RelyeaAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, University of Pittsburgh Email author 

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Metamorphosis has intrigued biologists for a long time as an extreme form of complex life cycles that are ubiquitous in animals. While investigated from a variety of perspectives, the ecological focus has been on identifying and understanding the ecological factors that affect an individual’s decision on when, and at what size, to metamorphose. Predation is a major factor that affects metamorphic decisions and a recent review by Benard (Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 35:651–673, 2004)) documented how predator cues induce metamorphic changes relative to model predictions. Importantly, however, real predators affect larval prey via several mechanisms beyond simple induction. In this paper, I contrast the leading models of metamorphosis, provide an overview of the multiple ways that predators can directly and indirectly affect larval growth and development (via induction, thinning, and selection), and identify how each process should affect the time to and size at metamorphosis. With this mechanistic foundation established, I then turn to the well-studied model system of larval amphibians to synthesize studies on: (1) caged predators (which cause only induction), and (2) lethal predators (which cause induction, thinning, and selection). Among the caged-predator studies, the chemical cues emitted by predators rarely induce a smaller size at metamorphosis or a shorter time to metamorphosis, which is in direct contrast to theoretical predictions but in agreement with Benard’s (Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 35:651–673, 2004) review based on a considerably smaller dataset. Among the lethal-predator studies, there is a diversity of outcomes depending upon the relative importance of induction versus thinning with the relative importance of the two processes appearing to change with larval density. Finally, I review the persistent effects of larval predators after metamorphosis including both phenotypic and fitness effects. At the end, I outline a number of future directions to allow researchers to continue gaining insight into how predators affect the metamorphic decisions of their prey.


Phenotypic plasticity Environmental heterogeneity Evolution Life history