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Do Experience and Body Size Play a Role in Responses of Larval Ringed Salamanders, Ambystoma annulatum, to Predator Kairomones? Laboratory and Field Assays


Corresponding author: Alicia Mathis, Department of Biology, Southwest Missouri State University, 901 S. National Avenue, Springfield, MO 65804, USA. E-mail:


Prey may experience ontogenetic changes in vulnerability to some predators, either because of changes in morphology or experience. If prey match their level of antipredator behavior to the level of predatory threat, prey responses to predators should reflect the appropriate level of threat for their stage of development. For larval salamanders, responses to predators may change with body size because larger larvae are less vulnerable to predation by gape-limited predators or because fleeing responses by large salamanders may be more effective than for smaller salamanders. In a field experiment, small larval ringed salamanders, Ambystoma annulatum, responded to chemical stimuli (‘kairomones’) from predatory newts, Notophthalmus viridescens, with an antipredator response (decreased activity). Laboratory-reared larvae decreased their activity following exposure to newt kairomones, indicating that larval ringed salamanders do not require experience with newts to recognize them as predators. In both experiments, larvae distinguished between chemical stimuli from newts and stimuli from tadpoles (non-predators) and a blank control. In a third experiment, field-caught (experienced) larvae showed a graded response to newt kairomones based on their body size: small larvae tended to decrease their activity while larger larvae showed no change or an increase in activity. This graded response was not observed for neutral stimuli, indicating that it is predator-specific. Therefore, ringed salamander larvae exhibit threat-sensitive ontogenetic changes in their response to chemical stimuli from predatory newts.