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Title: Ant Morphology Mediates Diet Preference in a Neotropical Toad (Rhinella alata)
Authors: McElroy, Matthew T.
Donoso, David A.
Issue Date: 26-May-2019
Publisher: The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
Citation: McElroy, M. T. y D. A. Donoso, 2019. Ant Morphology Mediates Diet Preference in a Neotropical Toad (Rhinella alata). Copeia 107 (3): 430–438.
Series/Report no.: Copeia;107 (3)
Abstract: Despite the widespread occurrence of myrmecophagy in anurans, it is unclear whether ant-specialists feed on ants opportunistically or whether they prefer species with specific morphological, ecological, or nutritional traits. We flushed 105 stomachs of a lowland neotropical toad, Rhinella alata, and identified each consumed ant to species level. We calculated linear selectivity to determine predator preference for ants by comparing the abundances of consumed species to their relative abundances in the leaf litter community on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. We conducted linear regression models to test whether linear selectivity or general predator preference related to seven morphological characteristics and two measurements of nutritional content. Rhinella alata preferentially ate 24 ant species. Other species were either avoided (n ¼ 34) or were eaten opportunistically (n ¼ 26). Preferred ant species were large and textured with hair and/or rugosity. We found that prey preference did not relate to prey nutritional content, that small ants were avoided even if they were superabundant in the environment, and that chemically defended and aggressive ants were preferred if they were large enough. We propose that R. alata prefers large ants because they represent a more efficient prey item in terms of prey handling time and because they are easier to see than are smaller ants. Furthermore, we hypothesize that predation attempts are more successful when prey are textured because microstructures on the tongue and prey surface may increase prey adhesion. The ant specialist R. alata is not specializing on any particular ant species but rather maximizing prey quantity over quality by only eating the largest ants, despite their scarcity in the environment.
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