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Environmental context shapes immediate and cumulative costs of risk-induced early hatching

Abstract

In animals with complex life cycles, fitness trade-offs across life stages determine the optimal time for transitions between stages. If these trade-offs vary predictably, adaptive plasticity in the timing of life history transitions may evolve. For instance, embryos of many species are capable of accelerating hatching to escape from egg predation and other hazards, but for plasticity in hatching timing to be selectively maintained, early hatching must also entail costs, probably in subsequent life stages. However the post-hatching environment, which influences this cost, is variable in nature. We assessed how two elements of the post-hatching environment, predator species and age structure created by hatching age plasticity, affect costs of hatching early in red-eyed treefrogs, Agalychnis callidryas. Red-eyed treefrog embryos were induced to hatch at the onset of hatching competence or near the peak of spontaneous hatching and exposed to one of three insect predators in single or mixed hatching-age treatments. Age structure created by hatching-age plasticity did not affect tadpole survivorship or growth; however, the consequences of hatching timing depended on predator species and foraging mode. Tadpoles that were induced to hatch early experienced initially higher mortality rates only with the more actively foraging predator. Nonetheless, mortality costs of accelerated hatching were apparent with all predators once we factored in the longer duration of exposure that early hatchlings experience in nature. This study suggests that extended exposure of young larvae to predators may be a general cost of early hatching, explaining why spontaneous hatching occurs later in life across variable environmental contexts.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente de Panamá for permission to conduct this research (Permits SE/A-16-10 and SC/A-23-12) and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute for use of their facilities and logistical support. Animal use was approved by STRI (protocol 100625-1008-15) and Boston University (protocol 08-011). We thank Z. Costa, R. Greene, R. Komosinski, C. Noss, S. Schleier, and J. Touchon for assistance. Comments by two anonymous reviewers, the associate editor and the editor John Endler greatly improved the manuscript. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation, USA (DEB-0716923 to K.M.W and 0717220 to J.R.V), Boston University, Virginia Commonwealth University and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

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Willink, B., Palmer, M.S., Landberg, T. et al. Environmental context shapes immediate and cumulative costs of risk-induced early hatching. Evol Ecol 28, 103–116 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10682-013-9661-z

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10682-013-9661-z

Keywords

  • Complex life cycle
  • Life history switch point
  • Environmental variability
  • Growth
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Trade-off