Habitat-driven life history variation in an amphibian metapopulation

13 March 2019

Cayuela, Hugo; Cruickshank, Sam; Brandt, Hannelore ; Ozgul, Arpat; Schmidt, Benedikt R.

Life-history theory states that, during the lifetime of an individual, resources are allocated to either somatic maintenance or reproduction. Resource allocation trade-offs determine the evolution and ecology of life-history strategies and determine an organisms’ position along the fast-slow continuum. Theory predicts that environmental stochasticity is an important driver of resource allocation and therefore life-history evolution. Highly stochastic environments are expected to increase uncertainty in reproductive success and select for iteroparity and a slowing down of the life history. To date, most empirical studies have used comparisons among species to examine these theoretical predictions. By contrast, few have investigated how environmental stochasticity affects life-history strategies at the intraspecific level. In this study, we examined how variation in breeding site stochasticity (among-year variability in pond volume and hydroperiod) promotes the co-occurrence of different life-history strategies in a spatially structured population, and determines life-history position along the fast-slow continuum in the yellow-bellied toad (Bombina variegata). We collected mark-recapture data from a metapopulation and used multievent capture-recapture models to estimate survival, recruitment and breeding probabilities. We found higher survival and longer lifespans in populations inhabiting variable sites compared to those breeding in stable ones. In addition, probabilities of recruitment and skipping a breeding event were higher in variable sites. The temporal variance of survival and recruitment probabilities, as well as the probability to skip breeding, was higher in variable sites. Taken together, these findings indicate that populations breeding in variable sites experienced a slowing down of the life-history. Our study thus revealed similarities in the macroevolutionary and microevolutionary processes shaping life-history evolution.