Beneath the surface of a small woodland pond, it is survival of the stillest. Aquatic spotted salamander larvae are under pressure to recognize and respond to the presence of predatory adult newts. They do so essentially by smell, recognizing the chemicals in the predator’s skin. When spotted salamander larvae smell a predator, they have very few options. The tiny larvae can try to hold still as long as possible, so that the movement-oriented predator won’t spot them, or they can try to avoid the predator, navigating away from the source of the chemicals that announce danger!
My dissertation research explores how well spotted salamander larvae recognize predator newts from different ponds, and how the pond environment might affect what behavioral decisions the salamander larvae make. I have found that the geographic source of the predator chemical cue matters less than the home pond of the spotted salamander. Does predator diet matter? And how does behavior really affect survival?
Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion, coming in spring 2016.