Larval plastic responses to warming and desiccation delay gonadal maturation in postmetamorphic spadefoot toads

Evolution. 2023 Dec 2;77(12):2687-2695. doi: 10.1093/evolut/qpad180.


Developmental plasticity allows organisms to adjust life-history traits to varying environmental conditions, which can have concomitant effects across life stages. Many amphibians are suitable model systems to study plasticity because their larvae can adjust growth and differentiation under fluctuating environments. It is unknown, however, whether somatic and gonadal differentiation are equally affected by environmentally induced plasticity or whether their decoupling alters gonadal maturation postmetamorphosis, which may affect fitness. We tested if developmental acceleration in response to warming and desiccation risk results in shifts in gonadal maturation during metamorphosis and postmetamorphic growth in western spadefoot toads (Pelobates cultripes). We found additive effects of increased temperature and desiccation risk on development and growth at metamorphosis, which largely constrained gonadal maturation in metamorphic and postmetamorphic individuals of both sexes. Furthermore, the conditions experienced by larvae incurred sex-specific carryover effects on the gonadal maturation of juveniles 5 months after metamorphosis. In females, high temperature delayed ovarian maturation regardless of the water level. In males, exposure to high temperature and high water levels slightly delayed the testes' maturation. These results highlight the relevance of larval plasticity in the gonadal maturation of species undergoing metamorphosis, which may have implications for population demographics and the evolution of life histories.

Keywords: amphibians; life-history evolution; metamorphosis; phenotypic plasticity; sexual maturation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anura* / physiology
  • Bufonidae
  • Desiccation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Larva
  • Male
  • Metamorphosis, Biological / physiology
  • Water


  • Water