Warmer temperatures reduce the costs of inducible defences in the marine toad, Rhinella marinus

Vincent O van Uitregt, Lesley Alton, Jaime Heiniger, Robbie Wilson

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Many of the far-reaching impacts of climate change on ecosystem function will be due to alterations in species interactions. However, our understanding of the effects of temperature on the dynamics of interactions between species is largely inadequate. Inducible defences persist in prey populations because defensive traits increase survival in the presence of predators but are costly when they are absent. Large-scale changes in the thermal climate are likely to alter the costs or benefits of these defences for ectotherms, whose physiological processes are driven by environmental temperature. A shift in costs of defensive traits would affect not only predator–prey interactions, but also the strength of selection for inducible defences in natural populations. We investigate the effect of temperature on the costs of behavioural defences in larvae of the marine toad, Rhinella marinus. Larvae were reared in the presence or absence of predator cues at both 25 and 30 °C. When exposed to predation cues, larvae reduced activity and spent less time feeding. Exposure to predation cues also reduced metabolic rate, presumably as a by-product of reducing activity levels. Larvae exposed to predation cues also grew more slowly, were smaller at metamorphosis and were poorer jumpers after metamorphosis—three traits associated with fitness in post-metamorphic anurans. We found that the costs of behavioural defences, in terms of larval growth, post-metamorphic size and jumping performance, were exacerbated at cooler temperatures. The thermal sensitivity of costs associated with defensive traits may explain geographic variation in plasticity of defensive traits in other species and suggests that changes in environmental temperature associated with climate change may affect predator–prey interactions in subtle ways not previously considered.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-130
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology B-Biochemical Systemic and Environmental Physiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

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