Article

Sublethal predators and their injured prey: linking aquatic predators and severe limb abnormalities in amphibians.

Sunriver Nature Center, Box 3533, Sunriver, Oregon 97707, USA.
Ecology (Impact Factor: 5). 01/2010; 91(1):242-51. DOI: 10.1890/08-1687.1
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT While many predators completely consume their prey, others feed only on blood or tissue without killing the prey, sometimes causing ecologically significant levels of injury. We investigated the importance of sublethal predator attacks in driving an emerging issue of conservation importance: missing-limb deformities in amphibians. We combined long-term field data and manipulative experiments to evaluate the role of sublethal predation in causing abnormalities in two regions of central Oregon, U.S.A. Since 1988, western toads (Bufo boreas) in Lake Aspen have exhibited abnormalities dominated by partially missing limbs and digits at annual frequencies from <1% to 35%. On Broken Top volcano, we found comparable types and frequencies of abnormalities in Cascades frogs (Rana cascadae). Field sampling and observational data implicated two aquatic predators in these abnormality phenomena: introduced sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) at Lake Aspen and corduliid dragonfly larvae (Somatochlora albicincta) at Broken Top. In experiments, these predators produced limb abnormalities identical to those observed in the respective regions. At Lake Aspen, in situ predator exclosures effectively eliminated abnormalities in toads, while comparisons among years with low and high stickleback abundance and between wetlands with and without sticklebacks reinforced the link between fish and amphibian abnormalities. Neither trematode parasite infection nor pesticide contamination could explain observed abnormalities. Our results suggest that predators are an important explanation for missing-limb abnormalities and highlight the ecological significance of sublethal predation in nature.

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