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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Temporal response of the tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) to 3,000 years of climatic variation

Judsen E Bruzgul1*, Webb Long12 and Elizabeth A Hadly1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biological Sciences Stanford University Stanford USA

2 School of Medicine University of Vermont Burlington USA

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BMC Ecology 2005, 5:7  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-5-7

Published: 13 September 2005

Abstract

Background

Amphibians are sensitive indicators of environmental conditions and show measurable responses, such as changes in phenology, abundance and range limits to local changes in precipitation and temperature regimes. Amphibians offer unique opportunities to study the important ecological and evolutionary implications of responses in life history characteristics to climatic change. We analyzed a late-Holocene fossil record of the Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) for evidence of population-level changes in body size and paedomorphosis to climatic change over the last 3000 years.

Results

We found a significant difference in body size index between paedomorphic and metamorphic individuals during the time interval dominated by the Medieval Warm Period. There is a consistent ratio of paedomorphic to metamorphic specimens through the entire 3000 years, demonstrating that not all life history characteristics of the population were significantly altered by changes in climate on this timescale.

Conclusion

The fossil record of Ambystoma tigrinum we used spans an ecologically relevant timescale appropriate for understanding population and community response to projected climatic change. The population-level responses we documented are concordant with expectations based on modern environmental studies, and yield insight into population-level patterns across hundreds of generations, especially the independence of different life history characteristics. These conclusions lead us to offer general predictions about the future response of this species based on likely scenarios of climatic warming in the Rocky Mountain region.