Raised by aliens: constant exposure to an invasive predator triggers morphological but not behavioural plasticity in a threatened species tadpoles.
During biotic invasions, native communities are abruptly exposed to novel and often severe selective pressures. The lack of common evolutionary history with invasive predators can hamper the expression of effective anti-predator responses in native prey, potentially accelerating population declines. Nonetheless, rapid adaptation and phenotypic plasticity may allow native species to cope with the new ecological pressures. We tested the hypothesis that phenotypic plasticity is fostered when facing invasive species and evaluated whether plasticity offers a pool of variability that might help the fixation of adaptive phenotypes. We assessed behavioural and morphological trait variation in tadpoles of the Italian agile frog (Rana latastei) in response to the invasive crayfish predator, Procambarus clarkii, by rearing tadpoles under different predation-risk regimes: non-lethal crayfish presence and crayfish absence. After two-month rearing, crayfish-exposed tadpoles showed a plastic shift in their body shape and increased tail muscle size, while behavioural tests showed no effect of crayfish exposure on tadpole behaviour. Furthermore, multivariate analyses revealed weak divergence in morphology between invaded and uninvaded populations, while plasticity levels were similar between invaded and uninvaded populations. Even if tadpoles displayed multiple plastic responses to the novel predator, none of these shifts underwent fixation after crayfish arrival (10-15 years). Overall, these findings highlight that native prey can finely tune their responses to invasive predators through plasticity, but the adaptive value of these responses in whitstanding the novel selective pressures, and the long-term consequences they can entail remain to be ascertained.