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Relative size underlies alternative morph development in a salamander

Abstract

Size thresholds commonly underlie the induction of alternative morphological states. However, the respective importance of absolute and relative size to such thresholds remains uncertain. If absolute size governs expression, morph frequency should differ among environments that influence absolute sizes (e.g. resources, competition), and individuals of the same morph should have similar average sizes across environments. If relative size determines expression, the frequency of each morph may not differ among environments, but morphs within each environment should differ in size relative to one another. We tested these predictions in a salamander (Ambystoma talpoideum) that develops into either a terrestrial metamorph or an aquatic paedomorph. To generate size variation within and among environments, we reared individuals in mesocosm ponds across three conspecific densities. We found that morph frequency did not differ among density treatments, and the morphs were not similarly sized within each density treatment. Instead, within each environment, relatively larger individuals became metamorphs and relatively smaller individuals became paedomorphs. Relative size therefore determined morph development, highlighting the importance of an individual’s social context to size-dependent morph induction.

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Fig. 1

Data availability

Data used in these analyses available at Dryad Digital Repository (https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.sf7m0cg3p)

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Acknowledgements

We thank the many mentors who have patiently awaited this work, especially J.W. Gibbons. T. Ryan provided assistance in experimental monitoring. Feedback from T. Anderson, A. Lackey, M. Dugas, and members of the CWRU Ecology and Evolution reading group improved the presentation of the study. At various times throughout this long-gestating project, funding for MPM was provided by the Watershed Studies Institute (WSI), an MSU Graduate Innovation Assistantship, a GAANN Fellowship, the CWRU Department of Biology, as well as G. Kornblum and the Living Earth Collaborative. JHKP was funded by the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL), Florida International University, and Western Carolina University. HHW was funded by the SREL, WSI, the MSU Department of Biological Sciences, an MSU CISR award, and the NSF (DEB-1354787). Financial assistance was also provided by the Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management under award number DE-EM0004391. This report was prepared as an account of work sponsored by an agency of the United States Government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process disclosed or represents that its use would not infringe privately owned rights. Reference herein to any specific commercial product process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof. The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government or any agency thereof.

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HHW and JHK designed the study and collected all data. MPM conducted all analyses and wrote the manuscript. All authors contributed to subsequent revisions

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Correspondence to Michael P. Moore.

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All applicable institutional and/or national guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

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Communicated by Jean-François Le Galliard.

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Moore, M.P., Pechmann, J.H.K. & Whiteman, H.H. Relative size underlies alternative morph development in a salamander. Oecologia 193, 879–888 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-020-04723-8

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Keywords

  • Facultative paedomorphosis
  • Intraspecific competition
  • Life-history variation
  • Polyphenism
  • Resource polymorphism