Models for the evolution of plasticity predict that individuals having phenotypes induced by exposure to enemies should experience relatively low fitness when enemies are absent. However, costs of induced phenotypes have been difficult to find in both plants and animals, perhaps because costs are expressed at later stages in the life cycle. We searched for delayed costs of an induced defense in larvae of the water frog Rana ridibunda, which exhibits strong phenotypic responses to predators. Tadpoles grew to metamorphosis in outdoor artificial ponds, in either the presence or absence of Aeshna dragonfly larvae confined within cages. We collected metamorphs at forelimb emergence, estimated their development rate until tail resorption was complete, and measured their body and leg shape and hopping performance. Development rate through metamorphosis reflects the duration of a transitional period during which metamorphs are especially vulnerable to predators, and hopping performance may reflect ability to escape predators. Froglets from the dragonfly treatment lost mass through metamorphosis significantly faster than those from predator-free ponds, but they resorbed their tails at about the same rate, despite the fact that their tails were relatively large to begin with. Froglets developing from predator-induced tadpoles had shorter, more muscular legs, and hopped 5% longer distances (difference not significant). Therefore, producing an induced defense against insect predators during the tadpole stage did not exact a cost during or immediately after metamorphosis; if anything, tadpoles with the predator-induced phenotype gave rise to more vigorous froglets. These results focus attention on other costs of the induced phenotype, as well as alternative explanations for plasticity that do not rely on direct fitness trade-offs.
Corresponding Editor: T. Garland