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Keywords:

  • amphibian;
  • brain size;
  • competition;
  • phenotypic plasticity;
  • predation

Abstract

An increasing number of studies have demonstrated phenotypic plasticity in brain size and architecture in response to environmental variation. However, our knowledge on how brain architecture is affected by commonplace ecological interactions is rudimentary. For example, while intraspecific competition and risk of predation are known to induce adaptive plastic modifications in morphology and behaviour in a wide variety of organisms, their effects on brain development have not been studied. We studied experimentally the influence of density and predation risk on brain development in common frog (Rana temporaria) tadpoles. Tadpoles grown at low density and under predation risk developed smaller brains than tadpoles at the other treatment combinations. Further, at high densities, tadpoles developed larger optic tecta and smaller medulla oblongata than those grown at low densities. These results demonstrate that ecological interactions – like intraspecific competition and predation risk – can have strong effects on brain development in lower vertebrates.