Document Type

Peer Reviewed/Refereed Publication

Publication Date


Publication Title



Biological Science


Jesse D. Jones College of Science, Engineering and Technology


Size thresholds commonly underlie the induction of alternative morphological states. However, the respective importance of absolute and relative size to such thresholds remains uncertain. If absolute size governs expression, morph frequency should differ among environments that influence absolute sizes (e.g. resources, competition), and individuals of the same morph should have similar average sizes across environments. If relative size determines expression, the frequency of each morph may not differ among environments, but morphs within each environment should differ in size relative to one another. We tested these predictions in a salamander (Ambystoma talpoideum) that develops into either a terrestrial metamorph or an aquatic paedomorph. To generate size variation within and among environments, we reared individuals in mesocosm ponds across three conspecific densities. We found that morph frequency did not differ among density treatments, and the morphs were not similarly sized within each density treatment. Instead, within each environment, relatively larger individuals became metamorphs and relatively smaller individuals became paedomorphs. Relative size therefore determined morph development, highlighting the importance of an individual’s social context to size-dependent morph induction.


“This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in Oecologia. The final authenticated version is available online at:

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