Developmental costs of yellow colouration in fire salamanders and experiments to test the efficiency of yellow as a warning colouration
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Warning colouration reduces predation risk by signalling or mimicking the unpleasantness of prey and therefore increases survival. We tested in two experiments the evolutionary costs and benefits of the yellow colour pattern in fire salamanders (Salamandra salamandra), which display a yellow/black colour pattern usually associated with toxic alkaloids. Our first experiment aimed to test whether the development of colouration is condition dependent and thus related to developmental costs, i.e. influenced by resource availability during the developmental process. Therefore, we reared fire salamander larvae under different nutritional conditions and compared the relative amount of yellow they developed after metamorphosis. Fire salamander larvae reared under limited food conditions had a lower proportion of yellow following metamorphosis than control larvae reared under superior food conditions. In a second experiment we tested whether the proportion of yellow has an impact on the risk of being attacked using artificial models. We tested, in salamander-free and salamander-occupied natural habitats, whether artificial clay models with different proportions of yellow and black receive different attack rates from potential predators (birds, mammals, insects). In clay models the proportion of yellow and the site had a significant effect on predation risk. Models with larger amounts of yellow had fewer bite marks from predators such as carabid beetles and birds, but only in sympatry with salamanders. In conclusion, the early expression of conspicuous colouration seems to be condition dependent and therefore potentially costly. Furthermore, the yellow colouration of fire salamanders act as a signal that potentially reduces their risk of being attacked by predators. Thus, the yellow colouration of fire salamanders seems to represent an adaptive trait that reduces the risk of predation, which can be expressed in higher quantity by individuals of a certain condition.