The ravages of time – Life-long consequences of early larval nutritional conditions on the terrestrial life of fire salamanders (Salamandra salamandra)

Besides immediate effects, early nutritional conditions also have an impact on the entire life history of individuals. We tracked a cohort of captive fire salamanders that experienced only during their early larval phase, either rich or poor nutritional conditions, and thereafter intermediate standard conditions for almost 10 years. We measured on a regular basis, their morphometric variables, noted behavioural and colouration developments, and monitored their survival. While deficits in body mass and colouration from initially poorly raised individuals vanished in adults, differences in size in comparison to initially richly raised larvae remained throughout life. Behaviour at adulthood did not differ any further from that during early conditions, nevertheless it tended to be consistent in certain exploratory traits over several years. After almost ten years, the overall survival rate was about 50%, but so far, no effect of early living conditions on subsequent survival became apparent. Taken together, our long-term study on the effects of early nutritional conditions on fire salamanders revealed interesting insights into the life trajectory of these animals. Immediate effects from early nutritional conditions were found in almost all aspects of behaviour and physiology. The majority of effects are compensated within the lifetimes of individuals, apparently without detectable costs.

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