Effect of caudal autotomy on aquatic and terrestrial locomotor performance in two desmognathine salamander species

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Plethodontid salamanders within the genus Desmognathus range from species that are primarily aquatic to species that are fully terrestrial. Thus, these species are a good model system to use for a comparison of the effect of tail loss on maximal swimming and running performance, and propensity for caudal autotomy in closely related species that primarily inhabit either aquatic or terrestrial environments. I examined the effect of caudal autotomy on maximal swimming and running speeds in D. quadramaculatus (a larger, more aquatic species) and in D. ocoee (a smaller, primarily terrestrial species). Prior to tail loss, aquatic burst speeds were greater than terrestrial burst speeds for individuals of D. quadramaculatus, but the converse was true for individuals of D. ocoee. During aquatic locomotion in each species, burst speed was significantly reduced after autotomy. With the loss of about 65% of tail length, swimming burst speed declined about 50% for D. quadramaculatus and 40% for D. ocoee. Terrestrial burst speed was not reduced in either species after autotomy. These results show that tail loss is costly for primarily aquatic desmognathine salamanders in terms of a reduction in maximal locomotor performance. The time required for caudal autotomy increased significantly with body size in each species, and larger individuals of D. quadramaculatus would bite prior to autotomy. Thus, larger individuals of D. quadramaculatus may utilize caudal autotomy less readily and rely more on alternative antipredator mechanisms such as biting, and this may be related to a higher locomotor cost of autotomy for such individuals. © 2010 by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists.

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