Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Davis

UC Davis Previously Published Works bannerUC Davis

Does maternal exposure to an environmental stressor affect offspring response to predators?


There is growing recognition of the ways in which maternal effects can influence offspring size, physiological performance, and survival. Additionally, environmental contaminants increasingly act as stressors in maternal environments, possibly leading to maternal effects on subsequent offspring. Thus, it is important to determine whether contaminants and other stressors can contribute to maternal effects, particularly under varied ecological conditions that encompass the range under which offspring develop. We used aquatic mesocosms to determine whether maternal effects of mercury (Hg) exposure shape offspring phenotype in the American toad (Bufo americanus) in the presence or absence of larval predators (dragonfly naiads). We found significant maternal effects of Hg exposure and significant effects of predators on several offspring traits, but there was little evidence that maternal effects altered offspring interactions with predators. Offspring from Hg-exposed mothers were 18% smaller than those of reference mothers. Offspring reared with predators were 23% smaller at metamorphosis than those reared without predators. There was also evidence of reduced larval survival when larvae were reared with predators, but this was independent of maternal effects. Additionally, 5 times more larvae had spinal malformations when reared without predators, suggesting selective predation of malformed larvae by predators. Lastly, we found a significant negative correlation between offspring survival and algal density in mesocosms, indicating a role for top-down effects of predators on periphyton communities. Our results demonstrate that maternal exposure to an environmental stressor can induce phenotypic responses in offspring in a direction similar to that produced by direct exposure of offspring to predators.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View