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Predation risk and patch size jointly determine perceived patch quality in ovipositing treefrogs, Hyla chrysoscelis

Resetarits, William J., Jr., Bohenek, Jason R., Breech, Tyler, Pintar, Matthew R.
Ecology 2018 v.99 no.3 pp. 661-669
Hyla, Lepomis cyanellus, Notemigonus, biodiversity, biogeography, community structure, females, fish, freshwater, habitat fragmentation, habitats, landscape ecology, landscapes, males, oviposition, ponds, predation, predators, risk
Two of the most important factors determining community structure and diversity within and among habitat patches are patch size and patch quality. Despite the importance of patch size in existing paradigms in island biogeography, metapopulation biology, landscape ecology, and metacommunity ecology, and growing conservation concerns with habitat fragmentation, there has been little investigation into how patch size interacts with patch quality. We crossed three levels of patch size (1.13 m², 2.54 m² and 5.73 m²) with two levels of patch quality (fish presence/absence, green sunfish [Lepomis cyanellus] and golden shiners [Notemigonus crysoleucus]) in six replicate experimental landscapes (3 × 2 × 6 = 36 patches). Both fish predators have been previously shown to elicit avoidance in ovipositing treefrogs. We examined how patch size and patch quality, as well as the interaction between size and quality, affected female oviposition preference and male calling site choice in a natural population of treefrogs (Hyla chrysoscelis). Females almost exclusively oviposited in the largest fishless patches, indicating that females use both risk, in the form of fish predators, and size itself, as components of patch quality. Females routinely use much smaller natural and experimental patches, suggesting that the responses to patch size are highly context dependent. Responses to fish were unaffected by patch size. Male responses largely mimicked those of females, but did not drive female oviposition. We suggest that patch size itself functions as another aspect of patch quality for H. chrysoscelis, and serves as another niche dimension across which species may behaviorally sort in natural systems. Because of strong, shared avoidance of fish (as well as other predators), among many colonizing taxa, patch size may be a critical factor in species sorting and processes of community assembly in freshwater habitats, allowing species to behaviorally segregate along gradients of patch size in fishless ponds. Conversely, lack of variation in patch size may concentrate colonization activity, leading to intensification of species interactions and/or increased use of lesser quality patches.