Date of Award

8-2015

Degree Name

MS in Biological Sciences

Department

Biological Sciences

Advisor

Emily Taylor

Abstract

This thesis is composed of two chapters. Chapter one reviews what is known about adaptive plasticity in response to predators, describes the physiological systems involved in such plasticity, and outlines the evolutionary consequences of adaptive plasticity. Chapter two describes a scientific experiment that investigates how malathion may impact adaptive plasticity in the Sierran Treefrog, Pseudacris sierra. Anuran tadpoles suffer high mortality rates due to predation. In response to strong selective forces relating to these high predation rates, tadpoles evolved the ability to adaptively respond to predators through morphological and behavioral plasticity. The morphological and behavioral responses are varied and depend on the hunting strategy of the predator, and the adaptive responses may be influenced by other biotic and abiotic factors. Tadpoles detect alarm cues released from tadpoles being eaten and kairomones that are released by predators. Tadpoles respond to these signals by changing tail and body shape along with a reduction of activity level, which enables tadpoles to escape predators more effectively. These changes in morphology can occur within a week, and behavioral changes can occur within 15 minutes. The adaptive responses are critical for increasing survival rates of tadpoles to metamorphosis and may have important evolutionary consequences for anurans. Amphibians are in decline worldwide, and pollutants are considered to be a major contributor to these declines. Every year 5.2 billion pounds of active ingredients of pesticides are applied worldwide, and these application rates have led to ubiquitous low-level contamination of aquatic ecosystems. How low-level contamination of pesticides directly and indirectly affect how tadpoles respond to their predators is poorly understood. One potential indirect effect of pesticides is the inhibition of adaptive plasticity. Pesticides have been shown to modulate corticosterone levels in tadpoles. Corticosterone is the most likely mediator of the physiological response that results in adaptive morphological change. If the physiological system of tadpoles relies on corticosterone as the mediator of adaptive response, and pesticides can modulate corticosteone levels, then pesticides may inhibit or negatively impact adaptive responses to important biotic factors, like predators. Pesticides have been shown to weaken immune systems, affect developmental and physiological pathways that lead to malformations, and cause direct mortality in anurans. Little research has investigated the effect of pesticides on adaptive morphological and behavioral plasticity in response to predators. Adaptive phenotypic responses to predators increase survival rates to metamorphosis and are important in stabilizing amphibian populations through time. If pesticides influence the ecological interactions of tadpoles and their predators, this could play a part in amphibian declines. In the experiment explained in Chapter two, I tested the hypothesis that malathion at a concentration of 0.1 mg/L inhibits anti-predator morphological and behavioral responses of Pseudacris sierra to the predatory dragonfly larvae Anax junius. The results of this experiment show that malathion alone caused the tail muscle depth to increase to the same magnitude as tadpoles that only experienced a predator’s presence. Malathion also caused a significant increase in tail depth, demonstrating that malathion directly causes morphological change. The experiment did not support the hypothesis that malathion inhibits adaptive plasticity, and malathion had no impact on behavioral plasticity. The results from this experiment give evidence that an ecologically relevant concentration of malathion can influence morphological components that are critical in escaping depredation events, which could affect predator-prey interactions.