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Keywords:

  • captive rearing;
  • Epidalea calamita;
  • metamorphosis;
  • morphology;
  • protein;
  • tadpoles

Abstract

The production of high quality amphibian larvae through optimal diets is a critical component of amphibian conservation breeding programs. Larval period, survival, body weight and total length are frequently used as metrics of adequate nutrition. However, the effects of nutrition on tadpole and metamorph morphology are rarely tested in detail. In the present study, we analyzed the most common metrics and six other larval and post-metamorphic morphological traits in natterjack toads (Epidalea calamita) fed with three different commercial fish diets, varying in protein content (32.0%, 38.3%, and 46.2%). Our results suggest that early life-history (tadpole growth, development, and survival) and morphological traits of E. calamita tadpoles are differentially affected by the percentage of dietary protein. As protein content increased, tadpoles exhibited larger bodies along with shorter tail fins; however, with no significant differences in total length. Larval period was similar across treatments but mortality was lower in high-protein diet. At high-protein diets the metamorphs revealed significantly longer bodies, and wider heads and hind legs, but there was no significant difference in the average weight across all dietary treatments. Based on our results, feed containing 46.2% protein promotes growth, development and survival of E. calamita tadpoles better than either of the other two feeds tested. The use of other body measures beyond weight, tadpole total length, and snout-vent length in studies of amphibian nutrition in captivity may assist the selection of appropriate diets to optimize tadpole survival and metamorph fitness. Zoo Biol. 32:457–462, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals Inc.