For organisms with complex life cycles, conditions experienced during early life stages may constrain later growth and survival. Conversely, compensatory mechanisms may attenuate negative effects from early life stages. We used the spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum, to test how aquatic larval density and terrestrial moisture influence juvenile growth, food intake, evaporative water loss and water reuptake rates, and corticosterone levels. We conducted an outdoor mesocosm experiment to manipulate larval density and transferred metamorphosed salamanders into low and high terrestrial moisture treatments in laboratory terrariums. After the larval stage, high-density salamanders were significantly smaller and had higher corticosterone release rates than those from low-density treatments. Salamanders in the low terrestrial moisture treatment consumed fewer roaches, had lower mass-specific growth rates, higher water reuptake, and higher corticosterone release rates than salamanders in high terrestrial moisture treatments. Across moisture treatments, smaller salamanders had higher mass-specific growth rates than larger salamanders. Our results suggest that salamanders can partially compensate for competition in the larval aquatic habitat with increased growth as juveniles, but this response is dependent on terrestrial habitat quality. Thus, the persistence of early life stage effects can be an important, yet context-dependent, component of amphibian life cycles.

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Copyright © 2018 MDPI. This article first appeared in Diversity 10: 3 (July 2018), 68.

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