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Ecology. 2010 Sep;91(9):2756-68.

Adaptive changes in size and age at metamorphosis can qualitatively vary with predator type and available defenses.

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Division of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Faculty of Biomedical and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G128QQ, United Kingdom.


In many taxa the timing of metamorphosis is plastic in response to predation risk during the pre-metamorphic stage, and trends in both age and body size at metamorphosis have been the subject of much study. The responses to cues of predators are predominantly to be larger or equal-sized at the same age or older at metamorphosis. These observations are in direct contrast with existing theoretical treatments of this plasticity, which mostly predict earlier and smaller metamorphosis and never later and larger metamorphosis without invoking indirect effects on growth rate. Here we resolve the discrepancy between theory and observation using a dynamic state-dependent model that incorporates morphological and behavioral responses to predation risk. We allow prey to choose the optimal activity level and/or investment in defense over the growth period. We show that under certain conditions, metamorphosis at a larger size and later time is likely to be optimal. Our analysis allows us to make testable predictions about the changes in activity level of prey as they grow and how the effect of providing refuges will vary with predator type. Several of these predictions are supported by a meta-analysis of metamorphic responses to caged predators by larval amphibians and insects. Our predictions lead to insights about the feedback effects of antipredator responses on growth and subsequent implications for life history.

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