From metamorphosis to maturity in complex life cycles: equal performance of different juvenile life history pathways


  • Corresponding Editor: S. P. Lawler.


Performance in one stage of a complex life cycle may affect performance in the subsequent stage. Animals that start a new stage at a smaller size than conspecifics may either always remain smaller or they may be able to “catch up” through plasticity, usually elevated growth rates. We study how size at and date of metamorphosis affected subsequent performance in the terrestrial juvenile stage and lifetime fitness of spadefoot toads (Pelobates fuscus). We analyzed capture–recapture data of >3000 individuals sampled during nine years with mark–recapture models to estimate first-year juvenile survival probabilities and age-specific first-time breeding probabilities of toads, followed by model selection to assess whether these probabilities were correlated with size at and date of metamorphosis. Males attained maturity after two years, whereas females reached maturity 2–4 years after metamorphosis. Age at maturity was weakly correlated with metamorphic traits. In both sexes, first-year juvenile survival depended positively on date of metamorphosis and, in males, also negatively on size at metamorphosis. In males, toads that metamorphosed early at a small size had the highest probability to reach maturity. However, because very few toadlets metamorphosed early, the vast majority of male metamorphs had a very similar probability to reach maturity. A matrix projection model constructed for females showed that different juvenile life history pathways resulted in similar lifetime fitness. We found that the effects of date of and size at metamorphosis on different juvenile traits cancelled each other out such that toads that were small or large at metamorphosis had equal performance. Because the costs and benefits of juvenile life history pathways may also depend on population fluctuations, ample phenotypic variation in life history traits may be maintained.