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Fear of the dark: substrate preference in Amazonian tadpoles

Abstract

Due to the importance of camouflage to avoid detection by predators, predation pressure can cause coupled evolution of skin colour and preference for substrate colour. Individuals can choose regions where the background makes their skin colour less noticeable (crypsis) or where it accentuates warning coloration (aposematism). In such scenario, individuals should optimally choose substrate according to their skin colour and mechanism of predation avoidance: toxic species are expected to choose highly lit places and non-toxic species should avoid such places. We studied substrate choice on five species of tadpoles that differ in body colour and toxicity. The results of the present study did not confirm our prediction that non-toxic and cryptically coloured species would prefer a lower contrast substrate that maximizes camouflage. We show that individuals preferred highly lit areas that accentuated their contrast with the substrate. The general preference for lighter substrate might be related to the tadpole’s limited vision on a dark substrate, which hampers their ability in detecting predators. This study demonstrates that tadpoles can distinguish the substrate colour and that their choice of habitat might be linked to both their defence mechanism in the case of aposematic species and recognition of habitat elements in the case of cryptically-coloured species.

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Data availability

The datasets generated and analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author upon request.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Marcelo Menin (in memorium) for the identification of species and Fazenda Experimental da UFAM administration for allowing the collection of specimens. ISCG is grateful to João Kennedy Pereira Campos, Izabela Patrícia de Oliveira e Silva Campos and Rubia Neris Machado for helping in the construction of the experimental set-ups. We thank Mateus Darwin da Silva, Marcelo Andrade Maciel, and Italo Roberto Bastos da Silva for their help while collecting tadpoles.

Funding

This research was partially supported by JST/JICA, SATREPS, FIXAM/FAPEAM (#062.01500/2018). We also received financial support from Brazilian CNPq (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico) and CAPES (Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior).

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Contributions

All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation and data collection were performed by Izabela Sabrina Campos Guimarães and Mahima Hemnani. The analyses were performed by Izabela Sabrina Campos Guimarães, Tiago Henrique da Silva Pires, and Igor Luis Kaefer. The first draft of the manuscript was written by Izabela Sabrina Campos Guimarães, and all authors contributed on subsequent versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Mahima Hemnani.

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All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution or practice at which the studies were conducted. Ethics committee on animal experimentation (CEUA) protocol # 011/2017—CEUA/UFAM.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Guimarães, I.S.C., Hemnani, M., Kaefer, I.L. et al. Fear of the dark: substrate preference in Amazonian tadpoles. acta ethol 24, 177–183 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10211-021-00374-x

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10211-021-00374-x

Keywords

  • Aposematism
  • Body colour
  • Camouflage
  • Habitat selection