Nest, but Not Egg, Fidelity in a Territorial Salamander


  • Megan G. Peterson

    1. Department of Biology, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Lafayette and Mountain Lake Biological Station, University of Virginia, Pembroke
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Megan G. Peterson, Department of Biology, Box 42451, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Lafayette, LA 70504-2451, USA. E-mail:


Egg recognition and subsequent egg brooding are costly forms of parental investment in many species of vertebrates. Life history factors, such as coloniality or risk of brood parasitism, may constrain egg recognition in vertebrates. Female red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) from my study site are territorial and do not share nest sites with other females. They are terrestrial and neither they nor their eggs are likely to be displaced by environmental factors such as flooding. I experimentally tested, in the laboratory, the hypothesis that female red-backed salamanders can discriminate between their own eggs and the eggs of unfamiliar females. Each female was allowed to move about a test chamber containing two clutches of eggs, one clutch with which it was found in the forest and one that had been found with a distant female. Most females remained with one clutch of eggs, which they brooded during the entire observation period. However, they did not significantly prefer to brood their own eggs over the eggs of another female. In a corollary field experiment, I tested whether brooding females that were displaced 1 m from their nest sites would return to their territories and commence brooding behaviour within 3 d. All 10 displaced females returned to their own nest within this time period and were found brooding their eggs. Because female red-backed salamanders at my study site do not tend to share nest sites with other females and because their eggs remain in stationary nests, selection may not have favoured egg recognition. However, the results suggest that female salamanders indirectly recognize their own eggs by actively recognizing their territorial nest sites.