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Body size but not warning signal luminance influences predation risk in recently metamorphosed poison frogs

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Flores, E. E., Stevens, M., Moore, A. J., Rowland, H. M., & Blount, J. D. (2015). Body size but not warning signal luminance influences predation risk in recently metamorphosed poison frogs. Ecology and Evolution, 5(20), 4603-4616. doi:10.1002/ece3.1731.

During early development, many aposematic species have bright and conspicuous warning appearance, but have yet to acquire chemical defenses, a phenotypic state which presumably makes them vulnerable to predation. Body size and signal luminance in particular are known to be sensitive to variation in early nutrition. However, the relative importance of these traits as determinants of predation risk in juveniles is not known. To address this question, we utilized computer-assisted design (CAD) and information on putative predator visual sensitivities to produce artificial models of postmetamorphic froglets that varied in terms of body size and signal luminance. We then deployed the artificial models in the field and measured rates of attack by birds and unknown predators. Our results indicate that body size was a significant predictor of artificial prey survival. Rates of attack by bird predators were significantly higher on smaller models. However, predation by birds did not differ between artificial models of varying signal luminance. This suggests that at the completion of metamorphosis, smaller froglets may be at a selective disadvantage, potentially because predators can discern they have relatively low levels of chemical defense compared to larger froglets. There is likely to be a premium on efficient foraging, giving rise to rapid growth and the acquisition of toxins from dietary sources in juvenile poison frogs.