Development of size structure in tiger salamanders: the role of intraspecific interference
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Cannibalism affects patterns of density-dependent mortality and may regulate population size. In many cases, rates of cannibalism depend on size structure, the frequency distribution of body sizes in the population, because cannibals can often only capture and consume smaller individuals. Size differences within single-age groups can be caused by a variety of factors. In this research we tested the hypothesis that size variation among larval tiger salamanders is due, in part, to interference interactions among individuals of different sizes. We found that size variation was greater when we raised larvae in groups rather than in isolation. This increase in size variation was due more to a relative deceleration of growth among smaller individuals rather than acceleration among larger individuals. We also found that smaller larvae had lower feeding rates than larger larvae when in groups, but not when isolated. Including spatial structure to limit physical interactions did not affect the size specificity of feeding rate, although it reduced feeding rates overall. We argue that these results are consistent with the hypothesis that larger larvae interfere, probably indirectly, with the feeding behavior of small individuals and this contributes to increases in size variation over time. We hypothesize that this indirect interference is caused by a behavioral response of smaller larvae to the risk of predation (cannibalism) by larger individuals.
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