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Data from: Tradeoffs affect the adaptive value of plasticity: Stronger cannibal-induced defenses incur greater costs in toad larvae

Cite this dataset

DeVore, Jayna; Crossland, Michael; Shine, Richard (2020). Data from: Tradeoffs affect the adaptive value of plasticity: Stronger cannibal-induced defenses incur greater costs in toad larvae [Dataset]. Dryad.


Adaptive developmental plasticity allows individuals to match their phenotype with their environment, which can increase fitness where threats are inconsistently present. Because adaptive traits are not ubiquitously nor infinitely plastic, tradeoffs between benefits and costs or limits are theoretically necessary to constrain plastic responses. Systems in which extreme risk can be reliably detected are ideal for investigating mechanisms that constrain plasticity, as even costly responses may be adaptive where risk is severe. Cane toads (Rhinella marina) are abundant in Australia and produce large clutches (frequently >10,000 eggs), but asynchronous breeding and rapid development result in variable larval densities within breeding pools. In the field, we found that cannibalism by older cohorts often reduces the survival of conspecific eggs and newly hatched pre-feeding larvae (“hatchlings”) by >99%, as feeding larvae (“tadpoles”) use chemical cues from the relatively immobile hatchlings to locate and consume them. After hatchlings become free-swimming, however, they are safe from cannibalism. Hatchlings can reduce this period of vulnerability by accelerating development when they detect conspecific tadpole cues. However, this developmental acceleration decreases initial tadpole mass, reduces subsequent survival, growth, and development, affects behavior, and compromises feeding structures. Reaction norms differ among clutches, and greater developmental acceleration is followed by greater impairment of larval function in plastic clutches, whereas nonresponsive clutches are unaffected by exposure to cannibal cues. More plastic clutches ultimately exhibit both poorer performance and greater variation among siblings in exposed and (to a lesser degree) control treatments. Variation among clutches in tadpole viability is driven by differences in plasticity rather than phenotype; fitness reductions are linked to developmental acceleration, not rapid development per se. Clutches with intrinsically slow pre-feeding developmental rates exhibit stronger acceleration (i.e., steeper reaction norms), but clutches with intrinsically rapid development reach invulnerable stages more quickly than those that accelerate development. As a result, high cannibalism risk may favor canalized rapid development rather than facultative developmental acceleration. Cannibalism plays an important role in the recruitment of this invasive species, and hatchling defenses against this threat demonstrate how the limits and tradeoffs associated with an inducible defense can favor canalized defenses over phenotypic plasticity.


Data collection methods are briefly described in each tab of the Excel document. See the associated manuscript for additional detail.


Australian Research Council, Award: FL120100074