Larval life history and anti-predator strategies are affected by breeding phenology in an amphibian
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- Orizaola, G., Dahl, E., Nicieza, A.G. et al. Oecologia (2013) 171: 873. doi:10.1007/s00442-012-2456-z
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Seasonal time constraints can pose strong selection on life histories. Time-constrained animals should prioritise fast development over predation risk to avoid unfavourable growing conditions. However, changes in phenology could alter the balance between anti-predator and developmental needs. We studied variation of anti-predator strategies in common frog (Rana temporaria) tadpoles in four populations from the two extremes of a latitudinal gradient across Sweden. We examined, under common conditions in the laboratory, the anti-predator responses and life histories of tadpoles raised with predatory Aeshna dragonfly larvae in two consecutive years with a difference of 20 days in breeding time in the north, but no difference in breeding time in the nouth. In a year with late breeding, northern tadpoles did not modify their behaviour and morphology in the presence of predators, and metamorphosed faster and smaller than tadpoles born in a year with early breeding. In the year with early breeding, northern tadpoles showed a completely different anti-predator strategy by reducing activity and developing morphological defences in the presence of predators. We discuss the possible mechanisms that could activate these responses (likely a form of environmentally-mediated parental effect). To our knowledge, this is the first study to show that a vertebrate modifies the anti-predator strategy of its offspring in response to natural variation in reproductive phenology, which highlights the need to consider phenology in studies of life-history evolution.