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Oecologia. 2003 May;135(4):657-64. Epub 2003 Mar 4.

Dryness increases predation risk in efts: support for an amphibian decline hypothesis.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Binghamton University, State University of New York, Binghamton, NY 13902-6000, USA.


One hypothesis for amphibian declines is that increased dryness attributed to global climate change exposes amphibians to greater biotic threat and, consequently, greater mortality. But, little is known about behavioral responses of terrestrial amphibians to dry conditions alone or in combination with biotic threats. We used field observations and laboratory experiments to test the response of efts (terrestrial juveniles) of the eastern red-spotted newt, Notophthalmus viridescens, to separate and combined desiccation and predation risks. When only at risk of desiccation, efts moved into shade, traveled down slope, decreased activity, and adopted water-conserving postures. Efts also significantly reduced the rate of water loss by huddling and were attracted to chemical cues from conspecific efts but not from conspecific adults. Thus, efts have a variety of behaviors that reduce the risk of dehydration associated with climate change. When faced only with a predation risk, represented by adult and eft newt tissue extracts (alarm chemicals), efts reduced their activity and avoided alarm cues from both sources. When exposed to combined desiccation and predation risks, efts were less active than when exposed to either risk separately and avoided adult tissue extracts, but not eft extracts. These results suggest that under dry conditions, conspecific tissue extracts contain both attractive (huddling) and repulsive (predator-related) chemical components that induce offsetting behavioral responses. This is the first study to demonstrate moisture-dependent responses to conspecific rinses and alarm substances, underscoring the importance of considering environmental moisture and animal hydration in studies examining responses to conspecific odors and/or alarm chemicals. These results support the hypothesis that elevated dehydration risk may compromise anti-predator behavior and exacerbate amphibian population declines.

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