Anuran larval developmental plasticity and survival in response to variable salinity of ecologically relevant timing and magnitude
Salinity in affected freshwater ecosystems fluctuates with seasonal rainfall, tidal flux, rates of evaporation, chemical runoff and the influence of secondary salinization. Environmental stressors such as salinity can have lasting effects on anuran development, yet little is known about the effects of fluctuating salinity on tadpole ontogeny or the effects of differing magnitudes of salinity exposure, as would occur in natural wetland systems. We examined how salinity fluctuations affected survival, growth and development of Litoria ewingii by exposing tadpoles to a range of salinity concentrations (5.6-10.85 ppt) at three different stages of development (hind limb-bud formation; toe differentiation and forearm development). We also investigated the plasticity of tadpole growth rates in response to non-lethal, transient salinity influxes, specifically examining the capacity for compensatory growth and its relationship to the timing, magnitude or frequency of salinity exposure. Our results show that later-stage tadpoles are more tolerant to elevated salinity than those exposed at a younger age, and that exposure to high salinity later in life suppresses the potential for compensatory growth. Tadpoles exposed to transient low salinity lost less mass during metamorphosis than animals in constant salinity treatments, indicating a possible alternate to compensatory growth. Exposure to near-lethal salinities early in development did not alter tadpole responses to subsequent salinity stress. Our results provide some of the first evidence that both the timing and magnitude of transient environmental stressors can have an effect on anuran development and developmental trade-offs in a stressful environment.