Food level and light conditions affect the antipredator behavior in larvae of a stream-breeding amphibian

Abstract

Understanding how long-term changes in environmental conditions influence the way that individuals cope with threats is essential in the context of behavioral adaptation to a rapidly changing world. However, little is known about the behavioral responses to predation risk for individuals that experienced different environmental conditions for extended periods of time, such as food levels and light conditions. In this experimental study, we tested whether previous long-term exposure to different food levels (low versus high) and light conditions (0-h light versus 8-h light) plays a significant role in shaping the antipredator response (i.e., the probability of emerging from the refuge and the distance moved) to stimuli from caged larval dragonflies, in larvae of the fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra). Specifically, we quantified behavioral differences in the response to predation risk in larval salamanders that were reared in the laboratory for 2 months under controlled food and light conditions. The results of this study showed that the interaction between food level and light conditions affected the antipredator behavior of the larvae. Fire salamander larvae maintained at low food levels and in 8-h light conditions emerged from the refuge with a higher probability (i.e., took more risk) than larvae maintained at high food levels and all other combinations of light conditions. Thus, our results highlight the complexity of antipredator responses, pointing attention to the fact that interactions among environmental factors are likely to determine the magnitude of antipredator response.

Significance statement

Few studies have investigated the role of multiple environmental factors on the expression of predator-induced behavioral responses. Specifically, because no study has so far investigated the risk-taking behavior in individuals exposed to long-term, contrasting food levels, and light conditions, we investigated this in amphibian larvae. We showed that environmental conditions interactively determined antipredator behavior. This highlights the importance of considering long-term environmental conditions experienced by an organism and their interactions when experimentally studying behavioral variation to adequately understand its expression in natural conditions.

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Data availability

The dataset analyzed during the current study is available in the KNB repository: https://knb.ecoinformatics.org/view/urn%3Auuid%3A7d01db76-0c1a-429c-a442-a8788e85f419.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to the following master, PhD students, and volunteers for their invaluable help in rearing the fire salamander larvae: Sabina Vlad (Ochiană), Elena Șușter, Alexandra Telea, Anca Soare, Sebastian Topliceanu, Roberto Festuccia, Ştefan Cătălin Baba, Augustin Nae, Ionuț Popa, Valerică Toma, Marius Robu, and Dragos Bălăşoiu. We highly appreciate the invaluable advice offered by Diana Szèkely and Dan Cogălniceanu, which greatly improved our experimental design. We thank both reviewers for their constructive comments on the manuscript.

Funding

The collaboration between Ovidius University Constanța, Institute of Speleology of the Romanian Academy and University of Liège was supported by a grant from Wallonie-Bruxelles International (W.B.I.) and Executive Unit for Financing Higher Education, Research, Development and Innovation CCCDI-UEFISCDI (ANCS), project number 105BM/2017. RIB was additionally supported by UEFISCDI through grant PN-II-RU-TE-2014-4-1536, and grant PN-III-P1-1.1-TE-2019-1233. MD is a Research Director at Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique – FNRS (Belgium). FS was partly supported by the project ANTREPRENORDOC, in the framework of Human Resources Development Operational Programme 2014-2020, financed from the European Social Fund under the contract number 36355/23.05.2019 HRD OP /380/6/13 – SMIS Code: 123847, and by grant PN-III-1.2-PCCDI-2017-0721 (INTERASPA).

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RIB, FS, and MD conceived the idea of the study. RIB, FS, and BRS analyzed the data. RIB and MD wrote the manuscript with input from FS and BRS. MD supervised the work. RP and IN contributed to the design and carrying out the behavioral experiments.

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Correspondence to Rodica Plăiaşu.

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The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethics approval

Because this study was only observational and not experimental with regards of laboratory research on animals, it did not need specific ethical approval. The collection, captive maintenance, and observation procedure of the fire salamander larvae complied with all relevant guidelines, notably the Directive 2010/63/UE of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2010 on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. Romanian Speleological Heritage Commission issued environmental permit no 78/10.02.2016. Both 8-h and 0-h light experimental conditions used to rear the fire salamander larvae mimicked natural situations, as this species is naturally present in these two situations in the wild as they can be present in caves (Manenti et al. 2011). No larva died during the experiment.

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Băncilă, R.I., Plăiaşu, R., Stănescu, F. et al. Food level and light conditions affect the antipredator behavior in larvae of a stream-breeding amphibian. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 75, 36 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-021-02966-w

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Keywords

  • Behavioral response
  • Environmental cues
  • Food levels
  • Refuge emergence
  • Light condition
  • Salamander