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Anuran life history plasticity: Variable practice in determining the end-point of larval development

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image of Amphibia-Reptilia

Plasticity in the timing of life history events and their impact on individual fitness, particularly the timing of and size at metamorphosis in animals with complex life cycles such as anuran amphibians, has long been of interest to ecologists. For different studies on life history plasticity to be comparable, there must be clearly defined and commonly agreed transition points, but it is unclear how consistently this is being performed in studies using anuran amphibians. In a review of 157 published studies, I found considerable variation in defining the end point of the larval phase. While a slight majority used the emergence of the forelimbs as the conclusion of the larval phase, some used a period within the developmental phase of metamorphic climax and others used the resorption of the tail. Studies included in this review, that assessed the same life history variable at two different developmental stages, reported some differences in results depending on which developmental stage was used. Recent evidence also shows that metamorphic climax is itself a period which can vary with environmental conditions, but, even in studies that included part or all of metamorphic climax in the larval phase, the treatment of individuals during metamorphic climax was not reported. Therefore, I argue that life history studies on anuran amphibians should distinguish the following phases: larval, metamorphic climax, juvenile, adult; that the end of the larval phase is best defined in ecological studies by forelimb emergence and that conditions under which individuals undergo metamorphic climax should be fully described.

Affiliations: 1: Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences, Division of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, University of Glasgow, G12 8QQ Glasgow, UK, School of Psychology, University of St. Andrews, KY16 9JP St. Andrews, UK;, Email:


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