Linking the evolution of habitat choice to ecosystem functioning: direct and indirect effects of pond-reproducing fire salamanders on aquatic-terrestrial subsidies
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Shifts in life history traits and in the behaviour of species can potentially alter ecosystem functioning. The reproduction of the central European fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra), which usually deposits its larvae in first-order streams, in small pool and pond-like habitats, is an example of a recent local adaptation in this species. Here we aimed to quantify the direct and indirect effects of the predatory larvae on the aquatic food webs in the ponds and on the flux of matter between the ponds and adjacent terrestrial habitats. Our estimates are based on biomass data of the present pond fauna as well as on the analysis of stomach content data, growth rates and population dynamics of the salamander larvae in pond habitats. By their deposition of larvae in early spring, female fire salamanders import between 0.07 and 2.86 g dry mass m−2 larval biomass into the ponds. Due to high mortality rates in the larval phase and the relatively small size at metamorphosis of the pond-adapted salamanders compared to stream-adapted ones, the biomass export of the metamorphosed salamanders clearly falls below the initial biomass import. Catastrophic events such as high water temperatures and low oxygen levels may even occasionally result in mass mortalities of salamander larvae and thus in a net 100 % import of the salamander biomass into the pond food webs. Indirect effects further accelerate this net import of matter into the aquatic habitat, e.g. the feeding of salamanders on aquatic insect larvae with the emergence of terrestrial adults—thus preventing export—and on terrestrial organisms that fall on the water surface (supporting import). This study demonstrates that the adaptation of salamanders to pond reproduction can alter food web linkages across ecosystem boundaries by enhancing the flux of materials and energy from terrestrial (i.e. forest) to the aquatic (i.e. pond) habitat.
KeywordsHabitat coupling Ecosystem processes Microevolution Biomass flux Salamandra salamandra
The study was supported by a scholarship of the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (DBU) to TR. This research was possible with the kind permission of the governmental forestry office in Bonn and the Nature Reserve Authority Erftkreis and Overath who granted the necessary permission for access and sampling of salamander larvae and invertebrates. We thank Frederic Bartlett, Andrew Kaus and Amy MacLeod for linguistic improvement of the manuscript and Dietrich Neumann for supporting the initial study.
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