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Abstract

Environmental conditions experienced early in life have been shown to significantly affect growth trajectories at later stages in many vertebrate species. Amphibians typically have a biphasic life history, with an aquatic larval phase during early development and a subsequent terrestrial adult phase after completed metamorphosis. Thus, the early conditions have an especially strong impact on the future survival and fitness of amphibians. We studied whether early nutritional conditions affect the behavioural reaction of fire salamander larvae (Salamandra salamandra) before completion of metamorphosis. Fire salamander larvae reared under rich nutritional conditions were heavier and larger, displayed better body condition overall throughout the first three month of life and metamorphosed earlier compared with larvae raised under poor nutritional conditions. Specifically, we tested whether larvae reared under these different conditions differed with respect to their risk-taking behaviour and activity. We found no differences in the activity of larvae with respect to their experienced early food conditions. However, larvae reared under poor nutritional conditions hid significantly more often in a risk-taking test than larvae reared under rich food conditions. This increase in shelter-seeking behaviour might be an adaptation to reduce the risk of larval drift or an adaptation to compensate for physiological deficits in part by appropriate behavioural reactions. Our results indicate that environmental conditions, such as food availability, may lead to different behavioural strategies.