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Postautotomy tail movement differs between colour morphs of the red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus)

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Striped and unstriped colour morphs of the eastern red-backed salamander, Plethodon cinereus, vary in their pre-attack behavioural response to predators, but it is unknown whether the morphs vary in post-attack strategies. Both morphs employ tail autotomy, a post-attack defensive mechanism enabling an individual to release a portion of their tail to facilitate escape from predation. Postautotomy tail movement diverts attention of a predator away from the individual’s body, so natural selection should favor vigorous tail movement in both colour morphs of P. cinereus. We compared the degree of postautotomy tail movement between morphs following simulated predation. Striped individuals exhibited substantially longer and faster tail movement than unstriped individuals. Divergence in postautotomy tail movement may be a direct evolved response to variable predation pressure between colour morphs. Alternatively, tail movement may be constrained in the unstriped morph due to a genetic correlation with colouration (e.g., pleiotropy).

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY 14456, USA

*Corresponding author; e-mail:

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