Evol Ecol Res 8: 23-35 (2006)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

Trophic polymorphism in a terrestrial salamander

John C. Maerz,1* Erin M. Myers2 and Dean C. Adams2

1Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY and  2Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, USA

Address all correspondence to John Maerz, Warnell School of Forest Resources, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA.
e-mail: jmaerz@forestry.uga.edu


Question: Does habitat heterogeneity promote trophic polymorphism in a terrestrial salamander?

Hypothesis: Eastern red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) in upland and lowland habitats differ morphologically because their prey’s size differs between those habitats.

Field site: Five mature hardwood forests in central New York and northern Pennsylvania, USA, with known differences in diet between upland and lowland habitats.

Methods: We collected animals and examined their stomach contents and their cranial morphology, the latter with digital stereomicroscope images and morphometric methods.

Results: We found morphological differences between upland and lowland salamanders, although there was a considerable phenotypic range for both habitats. Lowland salamanders generally had relatively shorter heads and a lower jaw/head ratio, and upland salamanders generally had the converse. Within and among habitats, cranial morphology was associated with diet, where salamanders with lowland-like morphology consumed more large prey and fewer small prey, and salamanders with upland-like morphology consumed the converse.

Conclusions: The observed trophic polymorphism and association with food use within populations suggests that this variation may accentuate variation at larger scales, and may play an important role in diversification within the genus.

Keywords: geometric morphometrics, Plethodon cinereus, resource use, salamander, trophic polymorphism.

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