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Natural variation in morphology of larval amphibians: Phenotypic plasticity in nature?


Van Buskirk, J (2009). Natural variation in morphology of larval amphibians: Phenotypic plasticity in nature? Ecological Monographs, 79(4):681-705.

Abstract

Phenotypic plasticity has been studied intensively in experimental settings but infrequently in nature, and therefore the relevance of experimental findings is poorly known. This is especially true for morphological plasticity in amphibian larvae induced by predators and competitors. This paper describes a seven-year survey of head and tail shape in eight
species of anuran and newt larvae in northern Switzerland, involving 6824 individual larvae
and 59 ponds. I tested relationships between geometric measures of size and shape and five
habitat gradients: pond permanence, cover by forest canopy and aquatic vegetation, and the densities of predators and competitors. Responses to competitors and predators were often similar to those reported in experiments. High competitor density was associated with small size and a large head in newt larvae, a long or deep head/body in anuran larvae, and a short or shallow tail in newts and some tadpoles. High predator density was correlated with a deep tail
fin and tail muscle in many species. In anurans, the change in shape between low- and highpredator
ponds in nature closely paralleled the plastic response to nonlethal predators in mesocosm experiments. The survey revealed many previously undescribed relationships between morphology and the other habitat features. Several species had relatively large tails in ponds that were shaded or thickly vegetated. Associations between year-to-year changes in shape and habitat within ponds implicated phenotypic plasticity rather than genetic population divergence, at least in anurans. These results inspire confidence in the relevance of experiments and highlight many new patterns that will merit further study.

Abstract

Phenotypic plasticity has been studied intensively in experimental settings but infrequently in nature, and therefore the relevance of experimental findings is poorly known. This is especially true for morphological plasticity in amphibian larvae induced by predators and competitors. This paper describes a seven-year survey of head and tail shape in eight
species of anuran and newt larvae in northern Switzerland, involving 6824 individual larvae
and 59 ponds. I tested relationships between geometric measures of size and shape and five
habitat gradients: pond permanence, cover by forest canopy and aquatic vegetation, and the densities of predators and competitors. Responses to competitors and predators were often similar to those reported in experiments. High competitor density was associated with small size and a large head in newt larvae, a long or deep head/body in anuran larvae, and a short or shallow tail in newts and some tadpoles. High predator density was correlated with a deep tail
fin and tail muscle in many species. In anurans, the change in shape between low- and highpredator
ponds in nature closely paralleled the plastic response to nonlethal predators in mesocosm experiments. The survey revealed many previously undescribed relationships between morphology and the other habitat features. Several species had relatively large tails in ponds that were shaded or thickly vegetated. Associations between year-to-year changes in shape and habitat within ponds implicated phenotypic plasticity rather than genetic population divergence, at least in anurans. These results inspire confidence in the relevance of experiments and highlight many new patterns that will merit further study.

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44 citations in Web of Science®
47 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Bufo spp.; canopy cover; habitat; hydroperiod; frog; Hyla spp.; newt; predation; Rana spp.; Switzerland; tadpole; Triturus spp.
Language:English
Date:November 2009
Deposited On:30 Oct 2009 08:14
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 13:31
Publisher:Ecological Society of America
ISSN:1051-0761
Additional Information:Copyright by the Ecological Society of America
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1890/08-1692.1
Official URL:http://www.esajournals.org/doi/full/10.1890/08-1692.1

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