Does Climate Change Promote Cannibalism?

Project Abstract

Polyphenisms (environmentally-cued polymorphisms) occur when multiple discrete morphologies are produced in different individuals of the same species in varying environments. Arizona tiger salamanders (Ambystoma mavortium nebulosum) exhibit a cannibalistic polyphenism in which cannibal morphs possess teeth and larger, U-shaped heads than toothless typical morphs. Cannibalism can strongly impact tiger salamander populations and their surrounding communities due to their keystone role in freshwater ponds. No previous studies have examined the impact of temperature on tiger salamander cannibalism. This is significant, as the Rocky Mountains where they live have warmed by ~1°C, and models predict the region could warm an additional 1.5-3°C by 2050. I aim to determine how the proportion of cannibal morphs in natural populations has changed over time and whether increased temperatures and densities influence the cannibal morphology. I’ve gathered data for my first objective through field sampling; I seined ponds around the Gunnison basin to collect data on cannibal frequency and will compare to previous studies to determine whether cannibal prevalence has changed over time. To complete my second objective, I conducted an experiment in which I utilized three density treatments (4, 8, and 12 larvae/container) and two temperature treatments (ambient vs. 3°C warmer) in order to determine whether increased temperatures and densities directly influence the development of the cannibal morphology. Understanding how climate change impacts polyphenisms in this system may increase our understanding of the relationship between climate and polyphenisms in other systems, helping us to mitigate the effects of climate change on environmentally-sensitive species.


The Wildlife Society's 30th Annual Conference, November 5-9, 2023

Funding Type

Travel Grant

Academic College

Jesse D. Jones College of Science, Engineering and Technology


Watershed Science


Master of science




Dr. Howard Whiteman

Academic College

Jesse D. Jones College of Science, Engineering and Technology

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