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Contrasted influences of moon phases on the reproduction and movement patterns of four amphibian species inhabiting different habitats in central Italy

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Many studies have provided evidence that prey adjust their behaviour to adaptively balance the fitness effects of reproduction and predation risk. Nocturnal terrestrial animals should deal with a range of environmental conditions during the reproductive season at the breeding sites, including a variable amount of natural ambient light. High degrees of illumination are expected to minimize those behaviours that might increase the animal detection by predators. Therefore, under habitat variable brightness conditions and in different ecosystems, the above mentioned behaviours are expected to depend on the variation in predation risk. Although moon effects on amphibian biology have been recognized, the direction of this influence is rather controversial with evidences of both increased and depressed activity under full moon. We tested in four nocturnal amphibian species (Hyla intermedia, Rana dalmatina, Rana italica, Salamandrina perspicillata) the effects of different (i) light conditions and (ii) habitats (open land vs. dense forest) on the reproductive phenology. Our results showed that the effects of the lunar cycle on the study species are associated with the change in luminosity, and there is no evidence of an endogenous rhythm controlled by biological clocks. The habitat type conditioned the amphibian reproductive strategy in relation to moon phases. Open habitat breeders (e.g., ponds with no canopy cover) strongly avoided conditions with high brightness, whereas forest habitat breeders were apparently unaffected by the different moon phases. Indeed, for all the studied species no effects of the moon phase itself on the considered metrics were found. Rather, the considered amphibian species seem to be conditioned mainly by moonlight irrespective of the moon phase. The two anurans spawning in open habitat apparently adjust their oviposition timing by balancing the fitness effects of the risk to be detected by predators and the reproduction.

Affiliations: 1: 2Department of Earth and Environmental Science, DSTA. Pavia University, Via Ferrata 9, Pavia, Italy; 2: 1Department of Science, Roma Tre University, Viale Guglielmo Marconi, 446, 00146, Roma, Italy


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