Individual responses to population size structure: the role of size variation in controlling expression of a trophic polyphenism

T. J. Maret, James Collins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


We investigated how size structure affects development of alternative larval phenotypes in Arizona tiger salamanders, Ambystoma tigrinum nebulosum, by testing the hypothesis that population size structure per se is a significant component of an individual's environment. Larvae of this subspecies exhibit one of two feeding phenotypes; typical larvae eat zooplankton and macroinvertebrates and cannibalistic larvae feed primarily on conspecifics. Previous laboratory experiments showed that larval density positively affected expression of the cannibalistic phenotype. In this study we tested the hypothesis that size variation among larvae also serves as a cue triggering development of the cannibalistic phenotype. We report laboratory experiments and field observations showing that both an individual larva's position in a size distribution and the amount of size vaiation among larvae serve as cues stimulating development of cannibalistic larvae. Larval density and population size structure provide a larva with an indication of the abundance and vulnerability of potential conspecific prey. Size variation among larvae, in turn, appears to be influenced by larval density. Thus, a complex relationship exists between larval density, population size structure, and the frequency of cannibals within a habitat.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-285
Number of pages7
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 1994


  • Ambystoma tigrinum nebulosum
  • Competitive bottleneck
  • Context-dependent behavior
  • Population size structure
  • Trophic polyphenism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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