Inter-annual weather variability can drive the outcome of predator prey match in ponds

in Amphibia-Reptilia
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The matching of life-history-events to the availability of prey is essential for the growth and development of predators. Mismatches can constrain individuals to complete life-cycle steps in time and in ephemeral habitats it can lead to mortality unless compensation mechanisms exist. Here we measured the performance of a population of European fire-salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) and their prey in ephemeral ponds. We analysed how short time inter-annual variability of yearly rainfall and temperature (two consecutive years, 2011 and 2012) affects matching of predator and prey and how two different weather scenarios influenced the predator’s population structure. A single species (larvae of the mosquito Aedes vexans) dominates the prey community here, which occurs in high quantities only in the beginning of the season. When the occurrence of prey and predator matched during a period of sufficiently high temperatures (as in 2011), initial growth of the salamander larvae was high and population size development homogeneous. At low temperatures during matching of predatory and prey (as in 2012), the initial growth was low but the salamander larvae developed into two distinctly different sizes. Further, some individuals in the large cohort became cannibalistic and initial size differences increased. As a result, the latest (smallest) cohort disappeared completely. Temperature measurements and estimation of maximal growth rates revealed that temperature differences alone could explain the different early development between years. Our data show that weather conditions (rainfall; temperature during early growth phase) strongly determined the performance of salamander larvae in ponds. Our data also add to the match-mismatch concept that abiotic growth conditions (here: low temperature) could prevent efficient conversion of prey- into predator-biomass despite high prey availability.

Inter-annual weather variability can drive the outcome of predator prey match in ponds

in Amphibia-Reptilia



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    Daily mean temperature trend (solid line) of three pools and accumulation of thermal time (dotted line) in 2011 (black) and 2012 (grey). The horizontal dotted lines represent the theoretical minimal thermal time requirement for new born salamander larvae (mean body mass 0.17 g) to initiate metamorphosis at 0.84 g starting with the arrival of the first larvae in the ponds.

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    Standing crop dry mass of food organisms versus dry mass of salamander larvae in ponds P1 (A, B), P2 (C, D), P3 (E) and P4 (F) in 2011 (A-C) and 2012 (D-F) (mean of three samplings per sampling occasion ± SE). Samples indicated with ∗ contained less than 0.0005 g of food crop biomass. P3 (C) and P4 (F) dried in mid-June and June, respectively (no samples at those times).

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    Size distribution of salamander larvae in different ponds (A, B) P1, (C, D) P2, (E), P3, F (P4) throughout two investigated years. (A, C, E) 2011, (B, D, F) 2012. Boxes represent median and quartiles; whiskers represent 5 and 95% percentile. Individual sizes above the 95% percentile are indicated by aligned dots. Dotted lines represent max.-min. size range of larvae before metamorphosis for of 0.44 to 1.0 g fresh mass (see Results).

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    Mean growth rate of salamander larvae during the early larvae phase in April (mean and SE). Dotted lines indicate the estimated growth rate at mean temperature for April (9.3°C in 2011 and 8.1°C for 2012 respectively) and ad-libidum food supply based on laboratory growth measurements (see supplementary material).

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    Cohort composition based on marked recaptured individuals in different ponds P1 (A, B), P2 (C, D), P3 (E), P4 (F) in three-weeks intervals, throughout two investigated years. (A, E, C) 2011, (B, D, F) 2012. The first, second and third cohorts were born between 01/03 and 30/03 in both years; the last cohort was born after 15/04 in 2012. This last cohort disappears within two sampling occasions (16/04-28/04/2012) after birth.


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