Date of Award:

2012

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Biology

Advisor/Chair:

Edmund D. Brodie, Jr.

Abstract

Some populations of newts (Taricha granulosa) possess large quantities of the neurotoxin tetrodotoxin (TTX) in their skin and eggs. Many populations of garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) are resistant to this toxin and can consume large numbers of newts with no negative effects. Despite the wealth of information acquired on the interaction between newts and their predator, garter snakes, very little research has been conducted on possible interactions between newts and other predators. I conducted a suite of experiments examining for the presence of other predators on newts, specifically focusing on predators of their eggs and larvae. I found a single predator, caddisfly larvae were capable of consuming the toxic eggs. Larval caddisflies are extremely abundant at one study site (775,000 caddisfly larvae per pond), and appear to be resistant to the negative effects of ingesting tetrodotoxin. After hatching, larval newts retain substantial quantities of TTX and most are unpalatable to predatory dragonfly naiads. Ovipositing female newts respond to the presence of caddisflies by depositing their eggs at the top of the water column where they are out of the reach of most predatory caddisflies. When caddisflies do consume a newt egg, some of the toxin is retained in their body tissues. Finally, caddisflies consume more newt eggs when those eggs contain less toxin versus eggs that contain large amounts of TTX. This may cause newt eggs that contain low quantities of TTX to more likely to die of predation which could ultimately drive an increase in toxicity of the adult population over time. Collectively, these findings indicate an additional player, caddisfly larvae, is a major predator of newts and could be involved in the evolution of tetrodotoxin toxicity in newts.

Comments

This work made publicly available electronically on June 4, 2012.

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