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Keywords:

  • Appalachians;
  • body size;
  • climate;
  • evolution;
  • metabolism;
  • salamanders

Abstract

Reduction in body size is a major response to climate change, yet evidence in globally imperiled amphibians is lacking. Shifts in average population body size could indicate either plasticity in the growth response to changing climates through changes in allocation and energetics, or through selection for decreased size where energy is limiting. We compared historic and contemporary size measurements in 15 Plethodon species from 102 populations (9450 individuals) and found that six species exhibited significant reductions in body size over 55 years. Biophysical models, accounting for actual changes in moisture and air temperature over that period, showed a 7.1–7.9% increase in metabolic expenditure at three latitudes but showed no change in annual duration of activity. Reduced size was greatest at southern latitudes in regions experiencing the greatest drying and warming. Our results are consistent with a plastic response of body size to climate change through reductions in body size as mediated through increased metabolism. These rapid reductions in body size over the past few decades have significance for the susceptibility of amphibians to environmental change, and relevance for whether adaptation can keep pace with climate change in the future.