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Within and among populations, alkaloid defenses of the strawberry poison frog (Oophaga pumilio) vary spatially, temporally, and with life history stage. Natural variation in defense has been implicated as a critical factor in determining the level of protection aforded against predators and pathogens. Oophaga pumilio tadpoles sequester alkaloids from nutritive eggs and are, thus, entirely dependent on their mothers for their defense. However, it remains unclear how tadpole alkaloid composition relates to that of its mother and how variation in maternally provisioned defenses might result in varying levels of protection against predators. Here, we demonstrate that natural variation in the alkaloid composition of a mother frog is refected as variation in her tadpole’s alkaloid composition. Tadpoles, like mother frogs, varied in their alkaloid composition but always contained the identical alkaloids found in their mother. Alkaloid quantity in tadpoles was highly correlated with alkaloid quantity in their mothers. Additionally, alkaloid quantity was the best predictor of tadpole palatability, wherein tadpoles with higher alkaloid quantities were less palatable. Mother frogs with greater quantities of alkaloids are, thus, providing better protection for their ofspring by provisioning chemical defenses during one of the most vulnerable periods of life.

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