, Volume 173, Issue 1, pp 95–105 | Cite as

Plastic changes in tadpole trophic ecology revealed by stable isotope analysis

  • Stéphane CautEmail author
  • Elena Angulo
  • Carmen Díaz-Paniagua
  • Ivan Gomez-Mestre
Population ecology - Original research


Amphibian larvae constitute a large fraction of the biomass of wetlands and play important roles in their energy flux and nutrient cycling. Interactions with predators and competitors affect their abundance but also their foraging behaviour, potentially leading to non-consumptive cascading effects on the whole trophic web. We experimentally tested for plastic changes in larval trophic ecology of two anuran species in response to competitors and the non-lethal presence of native and non-native predators, using stable isotope analysis. We hypothesized that tadpoles would alter their diet in the presence of competitors and native predators, and to a lesser extent or not at all in the presence of non-native predators. First, we conducted a controlled diet experiment to estimate tadpole turnover rates and discrimination factors using Pelobates cultripes and Bufo calamita. Turnover rates yielded a half-life of 15–20 days (attaining a quasi-isotopic equilibrium after 2 months), whereas discrimination factors for natural controlled diets resulted in different isotopic values essential for calibration. Second, we did an experiment with P. cultripes and Rana perezi (=Pelophylax perezi) where we manipulated the presence/absence of predators and heterospecific tadpoles using microcosms in the laboratory. We detected a significant shift in trophic status of both amphibian species in the presence of non-native crayfish: the δ15N values and macrophyte consumption of tadpoles increased, whereas their detritus consumption decreased. This suggests that tadpoles could have perceived crayfish as a predatory risk or that crayfish acted as competitors for algae and zooplankton. No dietary changes were observed in the presence of native dragonflies or when both tadpole species co-occurred. Stable isotopic analysis is an efficient way to assess variation in tadpoles’ tropic status and hence understand their role in freshwater ecosystems. Here we provide baseline isotopic information for future trophic studies and show evidence for plastic changes in tadpoles’ use of food resources under different ecological scenarios.


Discrimination factor Turnover Isotopic incorporation Invasive species Diet shift 



P. Burraco, D. Cabrera and C. Pérez helped with animal husbandry. E. Costas provided advice and logistical support for algae production and identification, and M. C. Lozano helped with zooplankton identification. The authorities of Doñana National Park gave the authorization for the fieldwork. Other fieldwork facilities were provided by ICTS-RBD. This work was supported by grant CGL-11123 from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, Junta Andalucía PAI group RNM 128 and co-funded by the FEDER Program CGL2009-11123. The personnel were supported by a Ramon y Cajal contract to I. G. M. (MICINN), a Juan de la Cierva contract to E. A. (MICINN) and a JAE postdoctoral contract to S. C. (CSIC).

Supplementary material

442_2012_2428_MOESM1_ESM.doc (790 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 793 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stéphane Caut
    • 1
    Email author
  • Elena Angulo
    • 1
  • Carmen Díaz-Paniagua
    • 1
  • Ivan Gomez-Mestre
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Estación Biológica de DoñanaCSICSevillaSpain
  2. 2.Research Group of Biodiversity (UO, CSIC, PA)OviedoSpain

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