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Fish and dragonfly nymph predators induce opposite shifts in color and morphology of tadpoles


  • J. C. Touchon,

  • K. M. Warkentin

J. C. Touchon ( and K. M. Warkentin, Dept of Biology, Boston Univ., 5 Cummington St., Boston, MA 02215, USA.


Many prey species, including amphibian larvae, can adaptively alter coloration and morphology to become more or less conspicuous to predators. Despite abundant research on predator-induced plasticity in tadpoles, the combination of color and morphological responses to predators remains largely unexplored. We measured predator-induced morphological and color plasticity in tadpoles. We reared tadpoles of the neotropical treefrog Dendropsophus ebraccatus with dragonfly nymph or fish predators, or in a predator-free control. After 10 days, we digitally photographed tadpoles and measured eight morphometric variables and five tail color variables. Tadpoles reared with nymphs developed the largest and reddest tails, but incurred a developmental cost, being the smallest overall. Cues from fish induced an opposite tail phenotype in tadpoles, causing shallow achromatic tails. Control tadpoles developed intermediate tail phenotypes. This provides the first experimental evidence that tadpoles can shift both color and morphology in opposite, predator-specific directions in response to a fish and an odonate predator. Despite mean differences, however, there was substantial variation in the degree of phenotype induction across treatments. Tail redness was correlated with tail spot size, but not perfectly, indicating that color and morphology may be partially decoupled in D. ebraccatus. Balancing selection from multiple conflicting predators may result in genetic variation for developmental plasticity.