Sex-specific shifts in morphology and diet in a frog after 50 years of anthropogenic habitat fragmentation

Qiang Wu, Fabien Aubret, Lingbing Wu, Ping Ding

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aim: Phenotypic shifts are commonly observed when animals face insular habitat change and may reflect ongoing stresses on individuals. However, the generality and the driving processes of this ‘island rule’ remain equivocal, notably in amphibians. Here, we investigate both morphological and dietary shifts in a frog using a mosaic of human-created islands to assess the potential operating mechanisms underlying these phenotypic responses. Location: Thousand Island Lake, China. Taxon: The Chinese piebald odorous frog, Odorrana schmackeri. Methods: We compared body size between insular and mainland populations and between sexes. We examined the potential underlying mechanisms regarding body size shifts using structural equation modelling (SEM). Finally, we analysed changes in diet composition and compared intersexual diet overlap between islands and mainland sites. Results: We found insular dwarfism in female but not male frogs. Meanwhile, insular females also had smaller gape widths than mainland females after accounting for snout-vent lengths (SVLs). According to SEMs, resource availability had a direct positive effect on body size. Finally, diet composition differed between the island and mainland populations but only in females. Males and females on islands exhibited greater overlaps in the diet. Main conclusions: In contrast with most studies in amphibians, we found insular dwarfism rather than gigantism in females. The smaller gape width after accounting for SVL in insular females suggests potential changes in prey utilization or food availability on these human-created islands. This notion is further supported by the differentiation of diet composition between island and mainland females. The higher diet overlap between sexes implies stronger intersexual competition for food resources after habitat fragmentation. Overall, we found rapid shifts in morphology and diet in frogs, which might result from habitat fragmentation in only 50 years and underscore the need to consider intersexual differences when assessing responses of species to anthropogenic disturbances.

Original languageEnglish
JournalDiversity and Distributions
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 09 Aug 2022


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