Larval life history and anti-predator strategies are affected by breeding phenology in an amphibian

Abstract

Seasonal time constraints can pose strong selection on life histories. Time-constrained animals should prioritise fast development over predation risk to avoid unfavourable growing conditions. However, changes in phenology could alter the balance between anti-predator and developmental needs. We studied variation of anti-predator strategies in common frog (Rana temporaria) tadpoles in four populations from the two extremes of a latitudinal gradient across Sweden. We examined, under common conditions in the laboratory, the anti-predator responses and life histories of tadpoles raised with predatory Aeshna dragonfly larvae in two consecutive years with a difference of 20 days in breeding time in the north, but no difference in breeding time in the nouth. In a year with late breeding, northern tadpoles did not modify their behaviour and morphology in the presence of predators, and metamorphosed faster and smaller than tadpoles born in a year with early breeding. In the year with early breeding, northern tadpoles showed a completely different anti-predator strategy by reducing activity and developing morphological defences in the presence of predators. We discuss the possible mechanisms that could activate these responses (likely a form of environmentally-mediated parental effect). To our knowledge, this is the first study to show that a vertebrate modifies the anti-predator strategy of its offspring in response to natural variation in reproductive phenology, which highlights the need to consider phenology in studies of life-history evolution.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Ross Alford and two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on previous versions of the manuscript. Our research was supported by Fundación Caja Madrid and Fundación Ramón Areces (G.O.), Stiftelsen för Zoologisk Forskning (E.D.), the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (A.G.N., project CGL2009-12767-C02-01) and the Swedish Research Council (A.L.). The Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI) provided the meteorological data. The animals were collected with the permissions from the county authorities and the experiments were approved by the Ethical Committee for Animal Experiments in Uppsala County (ID: C70/8).

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Correspondence to Germán Orizaola.

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Communicated by Ross Alford.

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Orizaola, G., Dahl, E., Nicieza, A.G. et al. Larval life history and anti-predator strategies are affected by breeding phenology in an amphibian. Oecologia 171, 873–881 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-012-2456-z

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Keywords

  • anti-predator defences
  • Breeding time
  • Climate
  • Metamorphosis
  • Phenotypic plasticity