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Variation in phenology and density differentially affects predator–prey interactions between salamanders

Anderson, Thomas L., Rowland, Freya E., Semlitsch, Raymond D.
Oecologia 2017 v.185 no.3 pp. 475-486
Ambystoma, biomass, body size, breeding, community structure, larval development, metamorphosis, phenology, predation, predator-prey relationships, salamanders and newts, synergism, trophic levels
Variation in the timing of breeding (i.e., phenological variation) can affect species interactions and community structure, in part by shifting body size differences between species. Body size differences can be further altered by density-dependent competition, though synergistic effects of density and phenology on species interactions are rarely evaluated. We tested how field-realistic variation in phenology and density affected ringed salamander (Ambystoma annulatum) predation on spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum), and whether these altered salamander dynamics resulted in trophic cascades. In outdoor mesocosms, we experimentally manipulated ringed salamander density (low/high) and breeding phenology (early/late) of both species. Ringed salamander body size at metamorphosis, development, and growth were reduced at higher densities, while delayed phenology increased hatchling size and larval development, but reduced relative growth rates. Survival of ringed salamanders was affected by the interactive effects of phenology and density. In contrast, spotted salamander growth, size at metamorphosis, and survival, as well as the biomass of lower trophic levels, were negatively affected primarily by ringed salamander density. In an additional mesocosm experiment, we isolated whether ringed salamanders could deplete shared resources prior to their interactions with spotted salamanders, but instead found direct interactions (e.g., predation) were the more likely mechanism by which ringed salamanders limited spotted salamanders. Overall, our results indicate the effects of phenological variability on fitness-related traits can be modified or superseded by differences in density dependence. Identifying such context dependencies will lead to greater insight into when phenological variation will likely alter species interactions.