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Journal of Chemical Ecology


Conspicuously colored dendrobatid frogs sequester alkaloid defenses from dietary arthropods, resulting in considerable alkaloid variation among populations; however, little is known about how variation is perceived as a defense against predators. Previous studies have found variable alkaloids in the dendrobatid Oophaga pumilio to be associated with differences in toxicity to laboratory mice, suggesting variable defenses are important. Arthropods are natural predators that use chemoreception to detect prey, including frogs, and may therefore perceive variation in alkaloid profiles as differences in palatability. The goal of the present study is to determine how arthropods respond to variable alkaloid defenses in O. pumilio. Frog alkaloids were sampled from individual O. pumilio from ten geographic locations throughout the Bocas del Toro region of Panama and the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Alkaloid extracts were used in feeding bioassays with the vinegar fly Drosophila melanogaster and the ant Ectatomma ruidum. Both species of arthropods fed significantly less on frog alkaloid extracts when compared to controls, and differences in alkaloid palatability were observed among frog populations, as well as between sexes and life stages within a population. Differences in alkaloid quantity, richness, and type were the main predictors of arthropod palatability. Our findings also represent the first direct evidence of a palatability spectrum in a vertebrate that sequesters chemical defenses from dietary sources. Further, the presence of a palatability spectrum suggests that variable alkaloid defenses in O. pumilio are ecologically relevant and play an important role in natural predator-prey interactions, particularly with respect to arthropod predators.