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Flatworms ( Schmidtea nova) prey upon embryos of the common frog ( Rana temporaria) and induce minor developmental acceleration

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Amphibians vary in the degree of pre-metamorphic developmental plasticity in response to risk of predation. Changes in hatching time and development rate can increase egg or tadpole survival respectively by shortening the duration of the more vulnerable stages. The intensity of predator induced developmental response and its direction, i.e. delayed, accelerated, or none, varies considerably between amphibian and predator species. We surveyed freshly deposited clutches of the European common frog Rana temporariain a population in Braunschweig, Germany and found that 62% (N = 20) of the clutches contained planarians ( Schmidtea nova), with an average of 3.94 ± 0.79 and a maximum of 13 planarians per clutch. A laboratory predation experiment confirmed that this planaria preys on R. temporariaeggs and early embryos. We further exposed freshly laid egg masses to either free, caged, or no planarians treatments using floating containers within a breeding pond where the two species co-occur. After 10 days exposure, embryos showed developmental stages 14-25 along the Gosner scale with statistically significant positive effects of both predator treatments. The observed effect was rather slight as predator-exposed individuals showed an increase by a single Gosner stage relative to those raised without planarians. The detected trend suggests that direct and indirect cues from flatworms, rarely considered as anuran predators, might induce a developmental response in R. temporariaearly developmental stages.

Affiliations: 1: 1Institute of Evolution, University of Haifa, Mt. Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel; 2: 2Zoologisches Institut, Technische Universität Braunschweig, Mendelssohnstr. 4, D-38106 Braunschweig, Germany


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