, Volume 137, Issue 1, pp 131–139 | Cite as

Color change and color-dependent behavior in response to predation risk in the salamander sister species Ambystoma barbouri and Ambystoma texanum

  • Tiffany Sacra GarciaEmail author
  • Andrew Sih
Behavioural Ecology


Although many organisms show multiple types of trait responses to predation risk (e.g., shifts in behavior, morphology, color, chemistry or life history), relatively few studies have examined how prey integrate these multiple responses. We studied the joint expression of color and behavioral responses to predation risk in two sister species of salamander larvae that live in habitats with different selection pressures. We examined responses to predation risk in three situations that differed in availability of refuge and substrate color heterogeneity, and thus availability of behavioral options for reducing risk. Relative to Ambystoma texanum, A. barbouri larvae were darker in color and showed a greater range of color change. With no variation in background color or refuge available, both species exhibited color change to better match the available background. The degree of color change showed by both species, however, did not depend on predation risk. Given the option to choose between light and dark substrates, A. texanum exhibited behavioral background matching (i.e., they preferred substrates that matched their own body color), while A. barbouri's substrate preferences did not depend on their initial body color. Instead, A. barbouri responded to risk by showing a strong preference for dark substrates, followed by a change to a darker body color. With refuge available, A. texanum's refuge use was color-dependent; larvae that were well camouflaged spent less time in refuge. In contrast, A. barbouri showed strong refuge use in response to risk, regardless of their body color. Overall, these results reflect how conflicting selection pressures (predation risk, habitat ephemerality, risk of UV damage) and species differences in mean color and ability to change color can govern the interplay of complementary and compensatory behavioral and color responses to predation risk.


Antipredator responses Microhabitat choice Background color matching Refuge use Salamander larvae 



This work was aided by generous help from V. Garcia, J. Niedzwiecki, B. Dickey, and M. Hatch. Earlier versions of this manuscript benefited from comments from J. Rehage, L. Pintor, R. Ziemba, J. Trexler, and an anonymous reviewer. Financial support for this project was provided by the National Science Foundation (grants to A. Sih) and the Lyman T. Johnson fellowship for T. Garcia from the University of Kentucky.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Environmental Science and PolicyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  3. 3.Department of ZoologyOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA

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