Determinants of clinal variation in life history of dusky salamanders (Desmognathus ocoee): prey abundance and ecological limits on foraging time restrict opportunities for larval growth


  • Joseph Bernardo,

    Corresponding author
    1. Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Institute, P.O. Box 3726, Johnson City, TN 37602-3726, U.S.A. and Department of Biological Sciences, East Tennessee State University, Box 70703, Johnson City, TN 37614-1710, U.S.A.
      *J. Bernardo. E-mail:
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  • Salvatore J. Agosta

    1. Department of Biology, Leidy Laboratories, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, U.S.A.
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*J. Bernardo. E-mail:


Recent models argue that thermal environments are the major cause of ectotherm life-history clines. However, elevational clines in body size in the mountain dusky salamander Desmognathus ocoee (family Plethodontidae) shift from positive at hatching, to negative at metamorphosis to positive again as adults, and so are not consistent with this explanation. The clinal shift from hatching to metamorphosis was investigated by examining the clinal and seasonal feeding patterns of larval salamanders at high and low elevation sites in rockface and woodland habitats. Repeated cohort sampling was also used to examine clinal and seasonal patterns in body size and to estimate average growth rates. Larval growth in both rockface and woodland habitats was tightly correlated with feeding activity. Although temperature was found to vary between high and low elevation sites, the greatest growth occurred in a cold woodland habitat with a high elevation, and the lowest growth occurred in an adjacent rockface habitat. Because this difference in growth cannot be attributed to thermal differences, we conclude that local food resource levels are the predominant source of local differences in growth. These findings, clinal patterns of variation in other predatory salamanders, and experimental analyses in which both food and temperature are orthogonally manipulated, indicate that general models that single out temperature as the principle cause of ectotherm life-history clines should be viewed with caution.