, Volume 153, Issue 3, pp 521–532 | Cite as

Amphibian lipid levels at metamorphosis correlate to post-metamorphic terrestrial survival

  • David E. ScottEmail author
  • Erin D. Casey
  • Michele F. Donovan
  • Tracy K. Lynch
Population Ecology


In organisms that have complex life cycles, factors in the larval environment may affect both larval and adult traits. For amphibians, the postmetamorphic transition from the aquatic environment to terrestrial habitat may be a period of high juvenile mortality. We hypothesized that lipid stores at metamorphosis may affect an animal’s success during this critical transition period. We examined variation in total lipid levels among years and sites in recently metamorphosed individuals of two pond-breeding salamander species, the marbled salamander (Ambystoma opacum) and the mole salamander (A. talpoideum), with limited data for one anuran species (southern leopard frog, Rana sphenocephala). Lipid levels were allometrically related to body size and ranged from 1.9 to 23.8% of body dry mass. The two salamander species differed in lipid allocation patterns, with A. opacum apportioning a higher percentage of total lipid reserves into fat bodies than A. talpoideum. Species differences in lipid allocation patterns may primarily reflect that large metamorphs will mature as one-year olds, and, regardless of species, will alter lipid compartmentalization accordingly. We used mark–recapture data obtained at drift fences encircling breeding ponds for 13 A. opacum cohorts to estimate the proportion of postmetamorphic individuals that survived to breed (age 1–4) and the mean age at first reproduction. Regression models indicated that size-corrected lipid level at metamorphosis (i.e., lipid residuals), and to a lesser extent rainfall following metamorphosis, was positively related to adult survival. Snout-vent length at metamorphosis was negatively related to age at first reproduction. We suggest that lipid stores at metamorphosis are vital to juvenile survival in the months following the transition from aquatic to terrestrial habitat, and that a trade-off shaped by postmetamorphic selection in the terrestrial habitat exists between allocation to energy stores versus structural growth in the larval environment.


Carryover effects Fitness correlates Lipids Postmetamorphic survival Trade-offs 



We thank J.W. Gibbons for supporting this study, A. Dancewicz-Helmers for help in collecting metamorphs, and R.A. Estes and R. Nagle for assisting with dissections and lipid extractions. Thanks also to J.H.K. Pechmann, A.C. Chazal, R.A. Estes, and A. Dancewicz-Helmers and many others for assistance in “running the fence” at Rainbow Bay from 1986 to 1998. The initial draft of the manuscript benefited from comments by J.D. Congdon, R. Nagle, K. Stark, and L.L. Janecek. Research and manuscript preparation were aided by the US Department of Energy under Award Number DE-FC09-07SR22506 to the University of Georgia Research Foundation. Collections were made under annual South Carolina scientific collecting permits, and procedures approved by the University of Georgia Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC No. A2003-10024-C2, “Reptile and amphibian research—general field studies”).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • David E. Scott
    • 1
    Email author
  • Erin D. Casey
    • 1
  • Michele F. Donovan
    • 1
  • Tracy K. Lynch
    • 1
  1. 1.Savannah River Ecology LaboratoryAikenUSA

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