Spatial variation in abiotic and biotic factors in a floodplain determine anuran body size and growth rate at metamorphosis
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- Indermaur, L., Schmidt, B.R., Tockner, K. et al. Oecologia (2010) 163: 637. doi:10.1007/s00442-010-1586-4
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Body size at metamorphosis is a critical trait in the life history of amphibians. Despite the wide-spread use of amphibians as experimental model organisms, there is a limited understanding of how multiple abiotic and biotic factors affect the variation in metamorphic traits under natural conditions. The aim of our study was to quantify the effects of abiotic and biotic factors on spatial variation in the body size of tadpoles and size at metamorphosis of the European common toad (Bufo b. spinosus). Our study population was distributed over the riverbed (active tract) and the fringing riparian forest of a natural floodplain. The riverbed had warm ponds with variable hydroperiod and few predators, whereas the forest had ponds with the opposite characteristics. Spatial variation in body size at metamorphosis was governed by the interactive effects of abiotic and biotic factors. The particular form of the interaction between water temperature and intraspecific tadpole density suggests that abiotic factors laid the foundation for biotic factors: intraspecific density decreased growth only at high temperature. Predation and intraspecific density jointly reduced metamorphic size. Interspecific density had a negligible affect on body size at metamorphosis, suggesting weak inter-anuran interactions in the larval stage. Population density at metamorphosis was about one to two orders of magnitudes higher in the riverbed ponds than in the forest ponds, mainly because of lower tadpole mortality. Based on our results, we conclude that ponds in the riverbed appear to play a pivotal role for the population because tadpole growth and survival is best in this habitat.