Functional mechanisms of an inducible defence in tadpoles: morphology and behaviour influence mortality risk from predation


Van Buskirk Institute of Zoology, University of Zürich, CH-8057 Zürich Switzerland. Tel.: +41 1 635 4983; fax: +41 1 635 6821; e-mail:


In many amphibian larvae a suite of morphological and behavioural characters varies together in an induced defence against predators, but it remains unclear which features are functionally related to defence. We independently manipulated behaviour and morphology in tadpoles of Hyla versicolor and assessed their consequences for swimming performance and predator escape. Data on burst swimming showed that tadpoles which accelerated rapidly were elongate, with shallow bodies and tails. Predator escape was measured by exposing tadpoles to predators (larval Anax dragonflies or larval Ambystoma salamanders) and recording time until death. Tadpoles were first reared for 30 days in ponds containing either caged Anax or no predators; individuals responded to predators by developing large brightly coloured tails and short bodies. We placed tadpoles of both morphological phenotypes into plastic tubs, and manipulated their behaviour using food and chemical cues from predators. Mortality risk experienced by the predator-induced phenotype was about half that of the no-predator phenotype, and risk increased with time spent swimming. An interaction between morphology and behaviour arose because increasing activity caused higher risk for tadpoles with deep tail fins but not shallow tail fins.