Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Leaf litter input to ponds can dramatically alter amphibian morphological phenotypes.

Abstract

Phenotypic plasticity in growth and development is commonly examined, but morphology can exhibit plasticity as well. Leg length plasticity is important, because it impacts mobility, which affects predator avoidance, prey capture, and seasonal movements. Differences in relative (i.e., body size adjusted) hind leg lengths > 5% in anurans affect jumping abilities, and resource levels and predation can generate these differences. Leaf litter input can alter larval growth and development and likely morphology as well. I show that relative leg length [leg length/snout-to-vent length (SVL) Ă— 100%] can be quite variable, ranging from 44% of SVL to 120% of SVL across the following species: Hyla versicolor, Lithobates sylvaticus, L. sphenocephalus, and Anaxyrus americanus. Within species variability was highest in L. sylvaticus and almost as great as across species. I measured relative leg length for metamorphs from aquatic mesocosm studies examining the effects of plant litter type and quality. I also examined the relative importance of different environmental variables, including water quality, predation, resource level, and temperature. Good predictors were found only for the two ranids, where leaf litter input was the only variable found to affect relative leg length. Ranid frogs had longer legs when emerging from mesocosms with grass than mesocosms with no litter input, and deciduous leaves produced metamorphs intermediate in leg length. These results suggest that habitat changes in vegetation from land use change, invasive species, and climate change may affect the mobility and fitness of individuals through changes in metamorph relative leg length.