Inter-annual weather variability can drive the outcome of predator prey match in ponds
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The matching of life-history-events to the availability of prey is essential for the growth and development of predators. Mismatches can constrain individuals to complete life-cycle steps in time and in ephemeral habitats it can lead to mortality unless compensation mechanisms exist. Here we measured the performance of a population of European fire-salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) and their prey in ephemeral ponds. We analysed how short time inter-annual variability of yearly rainfall and temperature (two consecutive years, 2011 and 2012) affects matching of predator and prey and how two different weather scenarios influenced the predator’s population structure. A single species (larvae of the mosquito Aedes vexans) dominates the prey community here, which occurs in high quantities only in the beginning of the season. When the occurrence of prey and predator matched during a period of sufficiently high temperatures (as in 2011), initial growth of the salamander larvae was high and population size development homogeneous. At low temperatures during matching of predatory and prey (as in 2012), the initial growth was low but the salamander larvae developed into two distinctly different sizes. Further, some individuals in the large cohort became cannibalistic and initial size differences increased. As a result, the latest (smallest) cohort disappeared completely. Temperature measurements and estimation of maximal growth rates revealed that temperature differences alone could explain the different early development between years. Our data show that weather conditions (rainfall; temperature during early growth phase) strongly determined the performance of salamander larvae in ponds. Our data also add to the match-mismatch concept that abiotic growth conditions (here: low temperature) could prevent efficient conversion of prey- into predator-biomass despite high prey availability.