Flexibility is everything: prey capture throughout the seasonal habitat switches in the smooth newt Lissotriton vulgaris

Org Divers Evol. 2015;15(1):127-142. doi: 10.1007/s13127-014-0187-1. Epub 2014 Oct 31.


Transitions between aquatic and terrestrial habitats are significant steps in vertebrate evolution. Due to the different biophysical demands on the whole organism in water and air, such transitions require major changes of many physiological functions, including feeding. Accordingly, the capability to modulate the pre-programmed chain of prey-capture movements might be essential to maintain performance in a new environment. Newts are of special interest in this regard as they show a multiphasic lifestyle where adults change seasonally between an aquatic and a terrestrial stage. For instance, the Alpine newt is capable of using tongue prehension to feed on land only when in the terrestrial stage, but still manages to suction feed if immersed whilst in terrestrial stage. During the aquatic stage, terrestrial feeding always involved grasping prey by the jaws. Here, we show that this seasonal shift in feeding behavior is also present in a species with a shorter terrestrial stage, the smooth newt Lissotriton vulgaris. Behavioral variability increases when animals change from aquatic to terrestrial strikes in the aquatic stage, but prey-capture movements seem to be generally well-coordinated across the feeding modes. Only suction feeding in the terrestrial stage was seldom performed and appeared uncoordinated. Our results indicate that newts exhibit a high degree of seasonal flexibility of the prey-capture behavior. The similarity between movement patterns of suction feeding and terrestrial feeding suggests that only relatively subtle neuromotoric adjustments to the ancestral, suction-feeding motor program are required to successfully feed in the new environment.

Keywords: Amphibia; Behavioral plasticity; Feeding biology; Kinematics; Salamanader.