The hypothesis that predator-induced defenses in anuran larvae are maintained by divergent selection across multiple predation environments has not been fully supported by empirical results. One reason may be that traits that respond slowly to environmental variation experience a fitness cost not incorporated in the standard adaptive model, due to a time lag between detecting the state of the environment and expressing the phenotypic response. I measured the rate at which behavior and morphology of Rana temporaria tadpoles change when confronted with a switch in the predation environment at two points in development. Hatchling tadpoles that had been exposed during the egg stage to Aeshna dragonfly larvae were not phenotypically different from those exposed as eggs to predator-free conditions, and both responded similarly to post-hatching predator treatments. When 25-day-old tadpoles from treatments with and without dragonflies were subjected to a switch in the environment, their activity budgets reversed completely within 24–36 h, and their body and tail shape began changing significantly within 4 days. The behavioral response was conservative: Tadpoles switched from high-risk to predator-free treatments were slower to adjust their activity. The study confirmed that behavioral traits are relatively labile and exhibit strong plasticity, but it did not reveal such a pattern at the level of individual traits: Morphological traits that developed slowly did not show the least plasticity. Thus, I found that differences in lability of traits were useful for predicting the magnitude of plasticity only for fundamentally different kinds of characters.
Corresponding Editor: T. Mousseau