Water Turbidity Affects the Development of Sexual Morphology in the Palmate Newt


Jean Secondi, PPF Paysages et biodiversité, UFR Sciences, Université d'Angers, Campus de Belle-Beille, 2 bd Lavoisier F-49045, Angers, France.
E-mail: jean.secondi@univ-angers.fr


In theory, animal signals are designed to optimize transmission across a specific habitat. However, sexual signals characteristics often reflect habitat quality, a feature that does not necessarily match habitat structure. Besides, many species exploit a particular habitat for breeding so that the growth of sexual signals can depend on the additive effects of breeding and non-breeding habitats. We combined field and experimental data to investigate the relative effect of terrestrial and aquatic habitat on the development of sexual ornaments in the palmate newt, Triturus helveticus. This species exploits a large ecological range of habitats. Like many amphibians, it spends the breeding season in water and the rest of year on land. We tested the influence of terrestrial (forest cover) and aquatic habitat variables (turbidity, organic matter, pH, nitrate and chloride) on male sexual morphology. Neither terrestrial nor aquatic habitat variables accounted for body size variation. In contrast, the size of male sexual traits decreased with water turbidity, suggesting that the expression of visual signals matched the local conditions of signal transmission. We provide experimental evidence that this pattern is not caused by reduced foraging efficiency in turbid water. We propose alternative mechanisms to account for the relationship between turbidity and visual sexual signals, and discuss the consequences of small scale environmental variation on mate choice.