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Ecology. 2006 Oct;87(10):2570-81.

Amphibian embryo and parental defenses and a larval predator reduce egg mortality from water mold.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Boston University, 5 Cummington Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA. igmestre@bu.edu


Water molds attack aquatic eggs worldwide and have been associated with major mortality events in some cases, but typically only in association with additional stressors. We combined field observations and laboratory experiments to study egg stage defenses against pathogenic water mold in three temperate amphibians. Spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) wrap their eggs in a protective jelly layer that prevents mold from reaching the embryos. Wood frog (Rana sylvatica) egg masses have less jelly but are laid while ponds are still cold and mold growth is slow. American toad (Bufo americanus) eggs experience the highest infection levels. They are surrounded by thin jelly and are laid when ponds have warmed and mold grows rapidly. Eggs of all three species hatched early when infected, yielding smaller and less developed hatchlings. This response was strongest in B. americanus. Precocious hatching increased vulnerability of wood frog hatchlings to invertebrate predators. Finally, despite being potential toad hatchling predators, R. sylvatica tadpoles can have a positive effect on B. americanus eggs. They eat water mold off infected toad clutches, increasing their hatching success.

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