The silence of the Frogs: costs and benefits of cannibalism in a species threatened by a deadly disease

Main funder

Funder's project number: 318404

Funds granted by main funder (€)

  • 438 874,00

Funding program

Project timetable

Project start date: 01/09/2018

Project end date: 31/10/2021


Cannibalistic behaviour is widespread among vertebrate and invertebrate taxa. Though at first glance counterintuitive, some benefits attributed to this behaviour include increased growth rates through access to valuable nutrients, and the elimination of possible competitors and even predators. However, cannibals may also incur high costs in terms of decreased inclusive fitness, if a cannibalistic individual cannot differentiate related from non-related individuals, risks of injury associated with the subjugation and consumption of a conspecific, and increased pathogen transmission. But, how does this behaviour evolve in species where rearing sites are chosen by the parents? Are the benefits of cannibalism so high that they override the costs of offspring loss? What would be the costs of this behaviour in species that would anyway benefit from speeding up their development to be able to leave ephemeral environments sooner? In this study, I will address these questions investigating the correlates, benefits and costs of cannibalistic behaviour in tadpoles of the Amazonian dyeing poison frog (Dendrobates tinctorius), a species in which fathers transport their newly hatched tadpoles to bodies of water of their choice, where tadpoles remain until metamorphosis. This species has recently been reported to show a high prevalence of infection by the chytrid fungus Batrachochtrium dendrobatidis, a major cause of frog populations decline. The proposed study aims to test for differences in life history traits (e.g. growth rate, age and size at metamorphosis), colouration, levels of toxicity, locomotor performance, and risk of chytrid infection between cannibalistic individuals exposed to conspecifics of different degrees of relatedness (full-sib, half-sib, and unrelated) and non-cannibals. I will achieve this by using a multi-disciplinary approach that combines a wide range of skills and methods combining sensory ecology, chemical ecology, assays on disease transmission and molecular analyses of relatedness. This may allow not only the generation of knowledge that can be used later for the generation of conservation policies, but also a better understanding of the mechanisms of transmission of the fungal disease that is decimating amphibian populations worldwide.

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Last updated on 2022-23-08 at 23:59