Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 70, Issue 8, pp 1389–1395 | Cite as

Larval aggression is independent of food limitation in nurseries of a poison frog

  • Matthew B. DugasEmail author
  • Jennifer Stynoski
  • Stephanie A. Strickler
Original Article


Aggression between nurserymates is common in animals and often hypothesized to result from proximate resource limitation. In numerous terrestrial frogs, larvae develop in phytotelmata, tiny water bodies where resources are scarce and competition, aggression, and cannibalism are all common between individuals sharing these nurseries. In some species, mothers provision phytotelm-bound young with trophic eggs, a strategy that compensates for low nutrient availability and could allow mothers to reduce costly aggression and cannibalism among nurserymates. We tested this hypothesis using strawberry poison frog (Oophaga pumilio) tadpoles, staging secondary depositions in arenas occupied by residents that had either been food deprived or fed ad libitum. Resident tadpoles were nearly all aggressive and most killed intruders, but aggression was unrelated to resident food deprivation. Unlike most related frogs studied, O. pumilio residents did not cannibalize their victims. This result supports the hypothesis that proximate food limitation and aggression can be independent.

Significance statement

Aggression and cannibalism are common in the resource-limited nurseries in which many young animals develop. An intuitive hypothesis for this is that individuals are aggressive because they are hungry. Although this hypothesis has usually been supported in birds, we found no support for it in a test we conducted in a terrestrial frog that feeds its young with trophic eggs. Resident tadpoles fed ad libitum were just as aggressive to staged intruders as those that were food-deprived, and were just as likely to kill intruders. Residents did not cannibalize their victims. These results suggest that hunger-independent aggression in young animals is taxonomically widespread, and demonstrates an important ecological constraint on parents: they cannot prevent fatal aggression, they cannot “feed” tadpoles to older siblings, and thus, they cannot use occupied rearing sites.


Aggression Cannibalism Food amount Hypothesis Parental care Trophic egg 



We thank Corinne Richards-Zawacki and the LaSelva Biological Station for support during this project. This work was funded by a grant from the Louisiana Board of Regents to MBD (LEQSF-EPS(2013)-PFUND-332). MBD was supported on a grant from the National Science foundation (Award 1146370). David Pfennig and two anonymous reviewers provided insightful comments that greatly improved the quality of this manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All procedures involving live animals were approved by Tulane University’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (R0382-R1). The Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones of Costa Rica approved all methods and issued the appropriate permit (053-2013-SINAC).

Supplementary material

265_2016_2148_MOESM4_ESM.pdf (72 kb)
ESM 4 (PDF 72 kb)

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew B. Dugas
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jennifer Stynoski
    • 3
  • Stephanie A. Strickler
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyTulane UniversityNew OrleansUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyCase Western Reserve UniversityClevelandUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  4. 4.Department of BiologyJohn Carroll UniversityUniversity HeightsUSA

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