Progenesis as an intrinsic factor of ecological opportunity in a polyphenic amphibian.
Didaskalou, Emilie Alexia
Functional Ecology; Feb2021, Vol. 35 Issue 2, p546-560, 15p
Paedomorphosis, a developmental heterochrony involving the retention of larval traits at the adult stage, is considered a major evolutionary process because it can generate phenotypic variation without requiring genetic modifications. Two main processes underlie paedomorphosis: neoteny, a slowdown of somatic development, and progenesis, a precocious maturation associated with body size reduction. Being essentially a truncation of ontogeny, progenesis has often been deemed an evolutionary dead end with advantages attributed to precocious reproduction or small body size required in specific environmental contexts (e.g. parasitism, interstitial life), but there is a lack of studies on the immediate ecological consequences of progenesis.Because body size is a key factor determining trophic ecology in animals, we hypothesized that progenesis might intrinsically promote ecological opportunity via body size reduction (i.e. 'the trophic advantage of progenesis' hypothesis). We tested this hypothesis in facultatively progenetic palmate newts Lissotriton helveticus using stable isotope niche modelling and diet reconstruction in conjunction with traditional stomach content analyses and body condition (BC) assessment.We show that not only did progenetic individuals occupy a different trophic niche than metamorphic individuals in all populations, but the smaller they were compared to metamorphs due to progenesis, the more different they were in terms of trophic ecology, with no negative effect on their BC.Altogether, the results suggest that via body size reduction, progenesis may generally act as an intrinsic factor of ecological opportunity, allowing the use of existing but previously unavailable resources, even in habitats where seemingly little opportunity exists. We argue that beyond the classically recognized fitness advantages of progenetic development, this process may also generally bring an immediate trophic advantage via body size reduction, which would have important implications to understand the evolution and adaptiveness of this process in many different taxa, from marine meiofauna to primates. A free Plain Language Summary can be found within the Supporting Information of this article. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]
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