Cannibalism in larvae of the long-toed salamander, Ambystoma macrodactylum Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/v979v630q

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  • Predator-prey interactions have historically been studied to explain patterns of organization observed in populations and communities. They have also been important in understanding the evolution of antipredator responses in prey and counterstrategies in predators. Despite the breadth of knowledge that exists for heterospecific interactions, relatively few studies have investigated the situation where predator and prey are conspecifics. Cannibalism has been widely documented within a diversity of animal groups including amphibians. In this thesis, I offer insight into the role of cannibalism in populations of the larval long-toed salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum). Aggressive behaviors, including cannibalism, have been documented in several Oregon Cascade populations of larval A. macrodactylum. Furthermore, some individuals within these populations exhibit a "cannibal" morphology characterized by a disproportionately large head and enlarged vomerine teeth. Through my research, I have attempted to elucidate the adaptive value of aggressive and cannibalistic activity, to examine the behavioral interactions between "cannibal" and "typical" morphs and to determine factors that influence aggression and cannibalism within some populations of larval A. macrodactylum. Larval A. macrodactylum commonly inhabit ephemeral environments. Two factors characteristic of these environments, limited food resources and high conspecific densities, appear to influence increased cannibalism in larval A. macrodactylum. Alternatively, pond drying alone does not appear to influence aggression. By eating a conspecific diet rather than a heterospecific diet, cannibals benefit from enhanced growth. For individuals living in an ephemeral environment, this may increase the likelihood that the individual will metamorphose before the habitat disappears. As with heterospecific interactions, cannibalistic predators can influence the behavior and life history of their conspecific prey. Typical morphs spatially avoid cannibals and reduce activity in their presence. These antipredator behaviors appear to be a learned phenomenon rather than an innate condition. Moreover, it appears that the conspecific diet of cannibals, but not their morphology, causes surrounding conspecifics to exhibit a decreased rate of growth and an increased time to metamorphosis.
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