Amphibians exhibit plasticity in the timing of metamorphosis, and tadpoles of many species respond to pond drying by accelerating their development. In the present study we investigated the phenotypic plasticity of the developmental response to water volume reduction in tadpoles of Eastern spadefoot toad Pelobates syriacus. The response of tadpoles to the simulated drying conditions was evaluated by gradually reducing the water level in the experimental containers under controlled laboratory conditions. Four water level treatments were used: constant high, slow decrease, fast decrease and constant low level. We tested if (i) tadpoles can speed up their development in a drying aquatic habitat, and (ii) if the accelerated development causes a reduced body size at metamorphosis. Our results showed that P. syriacus tadpoles were able to respond to pond drying by speeding up their metamorphosis and that metamorphosis was not influenced by water level, but by water level decrease rate. The accelerated development caused by the decreasing water level resulted in smaller body size at metamorphosis. The smallest size at metamorphosis was in tadpoles raised in constant low water level treatments and was probably induced by the crowding effect. We compared our results to similar studies which show that the response of the Eastern spadefoot toad tadpoles to pond drying is less impressive, especially if compared to the response of the North American spadefoot toads inhabiting desert environments.
Understanding how major life history traits such as body size and mass and growth change in response to resource availability is crucial in explaining life history trade-offs. We conducted a laboratory experiment with three (high, medium and low) feeding intensity treatments using metamorphs of two spadefoot toads species, Pelobates syriacus and P. fuscus, from syntopic populations. We tested how total food consumption, final body size and mass, body mass increase, body mass and length growth rates and growth efficiency are influenced by food availability. The responses to food availability differed significantly between the species with respect to the total food consumption, body mass increase, body mass growth rate and growth efficiency (i.e. the ratio between total amount of food consumed during the experiment divided by the increase in body mass). P. syriacus metamorphs had higher growth rates and growth efficiency than P. fuscus juveniles. Also, P. syriacus juveniles responded to differences in food level by increasing growth efficiency with decreasing food levels. Overall P. syriacus seems better adapted to shortages in food availability than P. fuscus. Our results clearly indicate that the differences in body size between the two species originate between metamorphosis and sexual maturity.