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To breed or not to breed: past reproductive status and environmental cues drive current breeding decisions in a long-lived amphibian

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Abstract

Iteroparity is an adaptive response to uncertainty in reproductive success. However, spreading reproductive success over multiple reproduction events during a lifetime is constrained by adult mortality and the stochasticity associated with interactions between external factors and physiological states. The acquisition of information about environmental conditions during the growth of progeny and sufficient resources during the non-reproductive period are key factors for breeding success. Consequently, we hypothesized that long-lived animals may skip a breeding opportunity when information about unfavourable environmental conditions is available. In addition, nutritional constraints could prevent an animal from replenishing its reserves sufficiently to invest in the current breeding period. We investigated these questions using capture–recapture data from a 5-year study on a large population of yellow-bellied toads in a forest in north-eastern France. We took advantage of various advances in multi-state capture–recapture models (e.g. unobservable states and mixture models) to test our hypotheses. Our results show that the combined effects of rainfall deficit and the breeding/non-breeding state of individuals during the past breeding season affect breeding probability during the following breeding opportunity. We also found that females breed less frequently than males, suggesting that the overall energy cost of reproduction differs between genders. Finally, the results indicate that toad survival appears to be negatively influenced by rainfall deficits. We discuss the yellow-bellied toad’s reproductive behaviour in term of bet-hedging strategy and life history trait evolution.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank all the fieldworkers who helped with data collection, especially Ariane Henri, Curmi Llanque, Elsa Labit and Rébecca Villemin. We are also grateful for the technical support provided by Anne-Lise Brison and Jean-Pierre Vacher in the capture–recapture design. We also thank Lex Hiby, whose help in individual identification through belly pattern analysis went beyond the call of duty. This research was funded by the Lorraine DREAL, the Conseil Régional de Lorraine, the Agence de l’Eau Rhin-Meuse and the Office National des Forêts. Toad capture was authorized by the Préfecture de la Meuse (arrêté no. 2008–2150).

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Correspondence to Hugo Cayuela.

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Communicated by Marc Mangel.

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Cayuela, H., Besnard, A., Bonnaire, E. et al. To breed or not to breed: past reproductive status and environmental cues drive current breeding decisions in a long-lived amphibian. Oecologia 176, 107–116 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-014-3003-x

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