Synergistic effects of multiple mechanisms drive priority effects within a tadpole assemblage


D. R. Chalcraft, Dept of Biology and the North Carolina Center for Biodiversity, East Carolina Univ., Greenville, NC, 27858, USA. E-mail:


Mounting evidence suggests that the history of species arrival to a locality can have important effects on species performance but the mechanism(s) through which priority effects are produced is not always clear. Differences in the developmental time of frog tadpoles provide an opportunity to examine mechanisms through which priority effects may influence fitness components of a late arriving taxon. Specifically, tadpoles of the southern leopard frog (Rana) can often require more than a year to complete metamorphosis so they overwinter in a pond and compete with newly deposited tadpoles in the spring. We conducted an experiment in artificial ponds to evaluate mechanisms through which overwintering Rana tadpoles influence fitness components of southern toad (Bufo) tadpoles deposited into ponds during the spring. We found that overwintered Rana reduced Bufo performance while newly hatched Rana that enter a pond simultaneously with Bufo did not. The production of this priority effect was primarily the result of Rana depleting algal resources in a pond during the winter prior to Bufo arrival. The performance of Bufo did not correspond with variation in the abundance of algae present in a pond during the spring and we found evidence to indicate that, in the absence of resource exploitation during the winter, overwintered Rana do not compete strongly with Bufo during the spring when both species co-occur. When Rana deplete algal resources during the winter, however, interactions between Rana and Bufo during the spring became much more important as both the development rate and survival of Bufo was reduced to a greater extent than what would have been predicted by resource exploitation alone. Our results demonstrate that priority effects can result from early colonists depleting resource availability prior to the arrival of other species which can intensify behavioral/physical interactions between species when they co-occur.