Extreme Climate-Induced Life-History Plasticity in an Amphibian
Age-specific survival and reproduction are closely linked to fitness and therefore subject to strong selection that typically limits their variability within species. Furthermore, adult survival rate in vertebrate populations is typically less variable over time than other life-history traits, such as fecundity or recruitment. Hence, adult survival is often conserved within a population over time, compared to the variation in survival found across taxa. In stark contrast to this general pattern, we report evidence of extreme short-term variation of adult survival in Rose’s mountain toadlet (Capensibufo rosei), which is apparently climate induced. Over 7 years, annual survival rate varied between 0.04 and 0.92, and 94% of this variation was explained by variation in breeding-season rainfall. Preliminary results suggest that this variation reflects adaptive life-history plasticity to a degree thus far unrecorded for any vertebrate, rather than direct rainfall-induced mortality. In wet years, these toads appeared to achieve increased reproduction at the expense of their own survival, whereas in dry years, their survival increased at the expense of reproduction. Such environmentally induced plasticity may reflect a diversity of life-history strategies not previously appreciated among vertebrates.