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Keywords:

  • Bufo americanus;
  • embryo defence;
  • genotype-by-environment interaction;
  • life history evolution;
  • ontogenetic niche shift;
  • oomycete;
  • phenotypic plasticity;
  • Saprolegnia

Abstract

Accelerated hatching is one of few defences available to embryos, and is effective against many egg-stage risks. We present the first analysis of genetic variation in hatching plasticity, examining premature hatching of American toad embryos in response to pathogenic water moulds. We reared eggs from half- and full-sib families in the presence and absence of water mould. Hatching age and hatchling size showed low cross-environment genetic correlations, suggesting that early-induced hatching can evolve largely independently of spontaneous hatching. We found less phenotypic and additive genetic variation for early-induced hatching than spontaneous hatching, and a stronger correlation between egg and induced hatchling sizes. Directional selection by the pathogen may have eroded variation in early-induced hatching, pushing it against the constraint of hatching gland development. Later hatching has a second, muscular component. This pattern of variation may characterize defences based on developmental transitions, although other inducible defences show more variation in induced phenotypes.