skip to main content

Title: Developmental Stage Affects the Consequences of Transient Salinity Exposure in Toad Tadpoles
Abstract Development can play a critical role in how organisms respond to changes in the environment. Tolerance to environmental challenges can vary during ontogeny, with individual- and population-level impacts that are associated with the timing of exposure relative to the timing of vulnerability. In addition, the life history consequences of different stressors can vary with the timing of exposure to stress. Salinization of freshwater ecosystems is an emerging environmental concern, and habitat salinity can change rapidly due, for example, to storm surge, runoff of road deicing salts, and rainfall. Elevated salinity can increase the demands of osmoregulation in freshwater organisms, and amphibians are particularly at risk due to their permeable skin and, in many species, semi-aquatic life cycle. In three experiments, we manipulated timing and duration of exposure to elevated salinity during larval development of southern toad (Anaxyrus terrestris) tadpoles and examined effects on survival, larval growth, and timing of and size at metamorphosis. Survival was reduced only for tadpoles exposed to elevated salinity early in development, suggesting an increase in tolerance as development proceeds; however, we found no evidence of acclimation to elevated salinity. Two forms of developmental plasticity may help to ameliorate costs of transient salinity exposure. With more » early salinity exposure, the return to freshwater was accompanied by a period of rapid compensatory growth, and metamorphosis ultimately occurred at a similar age and size as freshwater controls. By contrast, salinity exposure later in development led to earlier metamorphosis at reduced size, indicating an acceleration of metamorphosis as a mechanism to escape salinity stress. Thus, the consequences of transient salinity exposure were complex and were mediated by developmental state. Salinity stress experienced early in development resulted in acute costs but little long-lasting effect on survivors, while exposures later in development resulted in sublethal effects that could influence success in subsequent life stages. Overall, our results suggest that elevated salinity is more likely to affect southern toad larvae when experienced early during larval development, but even brief sublethal exposure later in development can alter life history in ways that may impact fitness. « less
; ; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Integrative and Comparative Biology
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
1114 to 1127
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. ABSTRACT Climate change is increasing the frequency of heat waves and other extreme weather events experienced by organisms. How does the number and developmental timing of heat waves affect survival, growth and development of insects? Do heat waves early in development alter performance later in development? We addressed these questions using experimental heat waves with larvae of the tobacco hornworm, Manduca sexta. The experiments used diurnally fluctuating temperature treatments differing in the number (0–3) and developmental timing (early, middle and/or late in larval development) of heat waves, in which a single heat wave involved three consecutive days with a daily maximum temperature of 42°C. Survival to pupation declined with increasing number of heat waves. Multiple (but not single) heat waves significantly reduced development time and pupal mass; the best models for the data indicated that both the number and developmental timing of heat waves affected performance. In addition, heat waves earlier in development significantly reduced growth and development rates later in larval development. Our results illustrate how the frequency and developmental timing of sublethal heat waves can have important consequences for life history traits in insects.
  2. Abstract Background Increases in temperature variability associated with climate change have critical implications for the phenology of wildlife across the globe. For example, warmer winter temperatures can induce forward shifts in breeding phenology across taxa (“false springs”), which can put organisms at risk of freezing conditions during reproduction or vulnerable early life stages. As human activities continue to encroach on natural ecosystems, it is also important to consider how breeding phenology interacts with other anthropogenic stressors (e.g., pollutants). Using 14 populations of a widespread amphibian (wood frog; Rana sylvatica ), we compared 1) growth; 2) tolerance to a common wetland contaminant (NaCl); and 3) the ability of tadpoles to acclimate to lethal NaCl exposure following sublethal exposure earlier in life. We evaluated these metrics across two breeding seasons (2018 and 2019) and across populations of tadpoles whose parents differed in breeding phenology (earlier- versus later-breeding cohorts). In both years, the earlier-breeding cohorts completed breeding activity prior to a winter storm and later-breeding cohorts completed breeding activities after a winter storm. The freezing conditions that later-breeding cohorts were exposed to in 2018 were more severe in both magnitude and duration than those in 2019. Results In 2018, offspring of the later-breedingmore »cohort were larger but less tolerant of NaCl compared to offspring of the earlier-breeding cohort. The offspring of the earlier-breeding cohort additionally were able to acclimate to a lethal concentration of NaCl following sublethal exposure earlier in life, while the later-breeding cohort became less tolerant of NaCl following acclimation. Interestingly, in 2019, the warmer of the two breeding seasons, we did not detect the negative effects of later breeding phenology on responses to NaCl. Conclusions These results suggest that phenological shifts that expose breeding amphibians to freezing conditions can have cascading consequences on offspring mass and ability to tolerate future stressors but likely depends on the severity of the freeze event.« less
  3. Many animals with complex life cycles can cope with environmental uncertainty by altering the timing of life history switch points through plasticity. Pond hydroperiod has important consequences for the fitness of aquatic organisms and many taxa alter the timing of life history switch points in response to habitat desiccation. For example, larval amphibians can metamorphose early to escape drying ponds. Such plasticity may induce variation in size and morphology of juveniles which can result in carry-over effects on jumping performance. To investigate the carry-over effects of metamorphic plasticity to pond drying, we studied the Túngara frog,Physalaemus pustulosus, a tropical anuran that breeds in highly ephemeral habitats. We conducted an outdoor field mesocosm experiment in which we manipulated water depth and desiccation and measured time and size at metamorphosis, tibiofibula length and jumping performance. We also conducted a complimentary laboratory experiment in which we manipulated resources, water depth and desiccation. In the field experiment, metamorphs from dry-down treatments emerged earlier, but at a similar size to metamorphs from constant depth treatments. In the laboratory experiment, metamorphs from the low depth and dry-down treatments emerged earlier and smaller. In both experiments, frogs from dry-down treatments had relatively shorter legs, which negatively impactedmore »their absolute jumping performance. In contrast, reductions in resources delayed and reduced size at metamorphosis, but had no negative effect on jumping performance. To place these results in a broader context, we review past studies on carry-over effects of the larval environment on jumping performance. Reductions in mass and limb length generally resulted in lower jumping performance across juvenile anurans tested to date. Understanding the consequences of plasticity on size, morphology and performance can elucidate the linkages between life stages.

    « less
  4. Climate change is not only causing steady increases in average global temperatures but also increasing the frequency with which extreme heating events occur. These extreme events may be pivotal in determining the ability of organisms to persist in their current habitats. Thus, it is important to understand how quickly an organism's heat tolerance can be gained and lost relative to the frequency with which extreme heating events occur in the field. We show that the California mussel, Mytilus californianus —a sessile intertidal species that experiences extreme temperature fluctuations and cannot behaviourally thermoregulate—can quickly (in 24–48 h) acquire improved heat tolerance after exposure to a single sublethal heat-stress bout (2 h at 30 or 35°C) and then maintain this improved tolerance for up to three weeks without further exposure to elevated temperatures. This adaptive response improved survival rates by approximately 75% under extreme heat-stress bouts (2 h at 40°C). To interpret these laboratory findings in an ecological context, we evaluated 4 years of mussel body temperatures recorded in the field. The majority (approx. 64%) of consecutive heat-stress bouts were separated by 24–48 h, but several consecutive heat bouts were separated by as much as 22 days. Thus, the ability of M.more »californianus to maintain improved heat tolerance for up to three weeks after a single sublethal heat-stress bout significantly improves their probability of survival, as approximately 33% of consecutive heat events are separated by 3–22 days. As a sessile animal, mussels likely evolved the capability to rapidly gain and slowly lose heat tolerance to survive the intermittent, and often unpredictable, heat events in the intertidal zone. This adaptive strategy will likely prove beneficial under the extreme heat events predicted with climate change.« less
  5. Abstract Background

    Differences in morphology, ecology, and behavior through ontogeny can result in opposing selective pressures at different life stages. Most animals, however, transition through two or more distinct phenotypic phases, which is hypothesized to allow each life stage to adapt more freely to its ecological niche. How this applies to sensory systems, and in particular how sensory systems adapt across life stages at the molecular level, is not well understood. Here, we used whole-eye transcriptomes to investigate differences in gene expression between tadpole and juvenile southern leopard frogs (Lithobates sphenocephalus), which rely on vision in aquatic and terrestrial light environments, respectively. Because visual physiology changes with light levels, we also tested the effect of light and dark exposure.


    We found 42% of genes were differentially expressed in the eyes of tadpoles versus juveniles and 5% for light/dark exposure. Analyses targeting a curated subset of visual genes revealed significant differential expression of genes that control aspects of visual function and development, including spectral sensitivity and lens composition. Finally, microspectrophotometry of photoreceptors confirmed shifts in spectral sensitivity predicted by the expression results, consistent with adaptation to distinct light environments.


    Overall, we identified extensive expression-level differences in the eyes of tadpoles and juvenilesmore »related to observed morphological and physiological changes through metamorphosis and corresponding adaptive shifts to improve vision in the distinct aquatic and terrestrial light environments these frogs inhabit during their life cycle. More broadly, these results suggest that decoupling of gene expression can mediate the opposing selection pressures experienced by organisms with complex life cycles that inhabit different environmental conditions throughout ontogeny.

    « less