Chemical cues released into the environment from injured prey animals provide a rich source of information about ambient risk. However, these cues could also provide information not associated with predation risk. Here we exposed wood-frog tadpoles (Lithobates sylvaticus) to a control diet and one that was soaked in chemical cues released from injured conspecifics, and documented growth and development of the tadpoles. If animals perceive repeated exposure to injured conspecific cues as indicating a high risk environment, then we predict that tadpoles would reduce foraging, prolonging time to metamorphosis, reducing growth rate and initiating adaptive changes in tail morphology. Conversely, if tadpoles interpret repeated exposure to these chemical cues as an indicator of competitor density, they should increase growth rate and body size to become better competitors. We found that tadpoles exposed to chemical cues exhibited significantly larger body width and body length relative to the control. These patterns are inconsistent with a response to risk but correspond with observed responses of wood-frog tadpoles to increased competition.
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Vol. 50 • No. 4