Ruthsatz K & Rico-Millan R, Eterovick PC, Gomez-Mestre I 2023 Exploring water-borne corticosterone collection as a non-invasive tool in amphibian conservation physiology: benefits, limitations and future perspectives. Con Phys 11:1-13.

Global change exposes wildlife to a variety of environmental stressors and is affecting biodiversity worldwide, with amphibian population declines being at the forefront of the global biodiversity crisis. The use of non-invasive methods to determine the physiological state in response to environmental stressors is therefore an important advance in the field of conservation physiology. The glucocorticoid hormone corticosterone (CORT) is one useful biomarker to assess physiological stress in amphibians, and sampling water-borne (WB) CORT is a novel, non-invasive collection technique. Here, we tested whether WB CORT can serve as a valid proxy of organismal levels of CORT in larvae of the common frog (Rana temporaria). We evaluated the association between tissue and WB CORT levels sampled from the same individuals across ontogenetic stages, ranging from newly-hatched larvae to froglets at ten days after metamorphosis. We also investigated how both tissue and WB CORT change throughout ontogeny. We found that WB CORT is a valid method in pro-metamorphic larvae as values for both methods were highly correlated. In contrast, there was no correlation between tissue and WB CORT in newly-hatched, pre-metamorphic larvae, metamorphs, or post-metamorphic froglets probably due to ontogenetic changes in respiratory and skin morphology and physiology affecting the transdermal CORT release. Both collection methods consistently revealed a non-linear pattern of ontogenetic change in CORT with a peak at metamorphic climax. Thus, our results indicate that WB CORT sampling is a promising, non-invasive conservation tool for studies on late-stage amphibian larvae. However, we suggest considering that different contexts might affect the reliability of WB CORT and consequently urge future studies to validate this method whenever it is used in new approaches. We conclude proposing some recommendations and perspectives on the use of WB CORT that will aid in broadening its application as a non-invasive tool in amphibian conservation physiology. 

Gonçalves IM, Kloh JS, Ruthsatz K, Figueredo CC, Eterovick PC 2023 Description and shaping factors of diet and feeding ecology of neotropical tadpoles: A case study and a comprehensive review. Austral Ecol 00:1-13.

Tadpoles are important components of many aquatic food webs as they influence populations at other trophic levels and, ultimately, energy transfer between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. What tadpoles consume is a key factor to their ecological functions. Neotropical anuran assemblages include many species with a larval stage, however, the diets of neotropical tadpoles are relatively poorly known. We performed a systematic review on the available literature on in situ studies of neotropical tadpole diets and found out that most studies are descriptive and temporally restricted, failing to consider seasonal variations. Studies frequently also fail to consider possible ontogenetic dietary variations or tadpoles' capacity to select food based on what is available to them in their habitats. We contributed to this topic by investigating seasonal variations and comparing the diets of two developmental stages of Scinax curicica tadpoles. Tadpole diet varied between dry and rainy seasons, but not between the studied developmental stages. These results, together with published studies, suggest that multiple ecological/physiological factors are likely to influence tadpole food intake and should not be overlooked. Studies on neotropical tadpole feeding ecology, digestion capacity, physiological effects of different diets and microbiome versus diet interactions are highly desirable but largely unexplored. Such studies are likely to add valuable information to understand tadpole roles in aquatic food webs, their growth and development performance resulting from food acquisition and assimilation, and consequently their effects on other species in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

Ruthsatz K, Schwarz A, Gomez-Mestre I, Meyer R, Domscheit M, Bartels F, Schaeffer SM, Engelkes K 2023 Life in plastic, it's not fantastic: Sublethal effects of polyethylene microplastics ingestion throughout amphibian metamorphosis. Sci Tot Environ 885:163779.

Microplastics (MP) are an abundant, long-lasting, and widespread type of environmental pollution that is of increasing concern as it might pose a serious threat to ecosystems and species. However, these threats are still largely unknown for amphibians. Here, we used the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) as a model species to investigate whether polyethylene MP ingestion affects amphibian growth and development and leads to metabolic changes across two consecutive life stages (larvae and juveniles). Furthermore, we examined whether MP effects were more pronounced at higher rearing temperatures. Larval growth, development, and body condition were recorded, and standard metabolic rate (SMR) and levels of stress hormone (corticosterone, CORT) were measured. We determined variation in size, morphology, and hepatosomatic index in juveniles to identify any potential consequences of MP ingestion across metamorphosis. In both life stages, MP accumulation in the body was assessed. MP ingestion was found to result in sublethal effects on larval growth, development, and metabolism, to lead to allometric carry-over effects on juvenile morphology, and to accumulate in the specimens at both life stages. In larvae, SMR and developmental rate increased in response to MP ingestion; there additionally was a significant interaction of MP ingestion and temperature on development. CORT levels were higher in larvae that ingested MP, except at higher temperature. In juveniles, body was wider, and extremities were longer in animals exposed to MP during the larval stage; a high rearing temperature in combination with MP ingestion counteracted this effect. Our results provide first insights into the effects of MP on amphibians throughout metamorphosis and demonstrate that juvenile amphibians may act as a pathway for MP from freshwater to terrestrial environments. To allow for generalizations across amphibian species, future experiments need to consider the field prevalence and abundance of different MP in amphibians at various life stages.

Ruthsatz K, Eterovick PC, Bartels F, Mausbach J 2023 Contributions of water-borne corticosterone as one non-invasive biomarker in assessing nitrate pollution stress in tadpoles of Rana temporaria. Gen Comp Endocrinol 331:114164.

Among a multitude of stressors to which wildlife is exposed, environmental pollution is a pervasive one that poses a serious threat. The permeable skin of amphibians is likely to increase direct contact of the body with pollutants, making them a group worth studying to access environmental quality. Consequently, finding reliable and complementary biomarkers that will present detectable and predictable changes in response to pollutants is essential to identify pollution sublethal effects on amphibians and to investigate whether these are in part responsible for population declines. The glucocorticoid hormone corticosterone (CORT), involved in many metabolic functions, is often used to measure the physiological stress response to environmental stressors in amphibians. In this study, we evaluated whether water-borne CORT can serve as a non-invasive biomarker for nitrate pollution stress in the European common frog (Rana temporaria) by comparing the effect of nitrate exposure on hormone release rates and on other physiological downstream biomarkers, i.e., ultimate physiological effects of the stressor. Specifically, we investigated the effect of different nitrate concentrations (0, 10, 50, and 100 mg/L) on water-borne CORT release rates, age, size, and body condition. Exposure to nitrate pollution significantly increased age at metamorphosis and water-borne CORT release rates, and led to reduced mass and body condition, but only at higher nitrate concentrations (i.e., 50 and 100 mg/L). Considering this similar sensitivity to other acknowledged biomarkers, water-borne CORT was a reliable biomarker of physiological stress in R. temporaria exposed to nitrate pollution stress in a controlled single-stressor laboratory approach. Thus, water-borne CORT is a promising method to be included in more holistic approaches. We recommend that such approaches keep testing multiple biomarker combinations, as species are exposed to several stressors likely to interact and produce varied outcomes in different biomarkers in their natural habitats.


Bethge J, Fietz J, Razafimampiandra JC, Ruthsatz K, Dausmann KH 2022 Season and reproductive activity influence cortisol levels in the Malagasy primate Lepilemur edwardsi. J Exp Zool A: Ecol Gen Physiol 58:275–288.

Throughout the year, wild animals are exposed to a variety of challenges such as changing environmental conditions and reproductive activity. These challenges may affect their stress hormone levels for varying durations and in varying intensities and impacts. Measurements of the glucocorticoid hormone cortisol in the hair of mammals are considered a good biomarker for measuring physiological stress and are increasingly used to evaluate stress hormone levels of wild animals. Here, we examined the influence of season, reproductive activity, sex, as well as body condition on hair cortisol concentrations (HCC) in Lepilemur edwardsi, a small Malagasy primate species. L. edwardsi lives in the seasonal dry forests of western Madagascar, which are characterized by a strongly changing resource availability throughout the year. We hypothesized that these seasonal changes of resource availability and additionally the reproductive cycle of this species would influence HCC of L. edwardsi. Results revealed that hair cortisol concentration of females did not change seasonally or with the reproductive cycle. However, we found a significant increase of hair cortisol levels in males from the early wet season during the early dry season (mating season). This increase is presumably due to changed behavior during the mating season, as sportive lemurs travel more and show aggressive behavior during this time of the year. This behavior is energy‐costly and stressful, and presumably leads to elevated HCC. As elevated cortisol levels may impair immune function, L. edwardsi males might also be more susceptible to parasites and diseases, which is unfavorable in particular during a period of low resource availability (dry season).

Ruthsatz K, Bartels F, Stützer D, Eterovick PC 2022 Timing of parental breeding shapes sensitivity to nitrate pollution in the common frog Rana temporaria. J Therm Biol 108:103296.

Climate change is expected to increase mean temperatures and the frequency of extreme weather events, that can lead to earlier/extended breeding seasons in temperate taxa. As a consequence, many organisms that show climate-induced phenological shifts might be exposed to environmental conditions they are not well adapted to while breeding, and their ability to cope with stressful conditions might be influenced. Here, we investigated how parental breeding time shapes the sensitivity to nitrate exposure at three consecutive life stages (embryonic, larval, juvenile) in the European common frog (Rana temporaria). We compared hatching success and life-stage specific survival, growth, standard metabolic rate, body condition, and acute thermal sensitivity of offspring from an earlier-breeding parental cohort (early cohort) vs. a later-breeding parental cohort (late cohort) exposed to a range of environmentally relevant concentrations of nitrate (0–100 mg/L). We also investigated whether nitrate exposure experienced during the embryonic and larval stages affects physiological performance in later life stages (after metamorphosis). Our study reveals that parental breeding time affects the sensitivity to nitrate pollution at three consecutive life stages in Rana temporaria. Breeding later in spring reduced hatching size and survival at high nitrate exposure, but also induced compensatory growth of the offspring. In both early and late cohorts, exposure to nitrate pollution reduced developmental rate and led to larger, but older larvae at the onset of metamorphosis with a greater sensitivity to warmer environmental temperatures. Standard metabolic rate, on the contrary, was neither affected by parental breeding time nor by exposure to nitrate. Exposure to nitrate pollution during embryonic and larval development led to carry-over in juvenile froglets as their sensitivity to temperature was higher. In a world highly impacted by humans, it is thus essential to give stressors a more holistic approach in order to better predict their consequences on species subjected to them.

Vences M, Schulz V, Heldt L, Kamprad F, Ruthsatz K, Preissler K, Müsken M, Steinfartz S 2022 Comparative abundance of cutaneous bacteria in Central European amphibians. Salamandra 58:275–288.

The composition of cutaneous (skin-associated) bacterial communities of amphibians has been intensively studied in light of the potential of some of these commensal bacterial taxa to mitigate infection with the chytrid fungi Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) and B. salamandrivorans (Bsal). However, surprisingly, the absolute densities in which these bacteria occur on the skin are only poorly known. We here combine quantification of bacterial 16SrDNA copies from skin swabs by quantitative PCR with counts from scanning electron microscopy (SEM) images to assess and compare bacterial abundances on the skin of various central European amphibians. We focus on the fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra) which is severely threatened by the spread of Bsal. Based on counts from SEM pictures of selected skin parts, local densities of ~43,000 bacteria per mm² were ascertained in frogs, although the data are insufficient to understand whether these values apply to the whole body surface. Bacterial densities are doubtless much lower in fire salamanders in which we observed almost no bacteria in SEM examination. From qPCR data, we find: (i) statistically relevant differences in bacterial abundances among species, with the lowest abundances in terrestrial salamanders and the highest abundances in toads; (ii) higher bacterial loads in captive compared to wild fire salamanders, and much higher loads in Bsal-infected captive specimens, in agreement with the hypothesis that Bsal-infection leads to blooming of opportunistic bacteria that may cause secondary infection; (iii) an only weak decrease of bacterial load after repeated swabbing, in agreement with the hypothesis that skin swabs capture only a part of the bacteria of the swabbed skin surface. We discuss the multiple sources of uncertainty in absolute estimates of abundances of cutaneous bacteria and suggest further research to clarify and reduce

these uncertainties.

Ruthsatz K, Rakotoarison A, Razafimampiandra JC, Randriamahefa VS, Rabemananjara FCE, Rakotondraparany F, Bletz MC, Vences M 2022 Field body temperatures in Malagasy rainforest frogs. Herpetol Notes 15:565-578.

Temperature is one of the most prominent environmental factors influencing amphibian physiology and also an important life history trait for amphibian pathogens, such as the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). This pathogen has been reported from wild amphibian communities on Madagascar, but it remains poorly known if field body temperatures (TB) of wild Malagasy amphibians are in a range suitable for infection by this fungus. Here, we evaluated field TB of 845 rainforest frogs from 38 species in two hyperdiverse amphibian communities in Madagascar during the warm-wet and cool-dry seasons, the first such comprehensive data set from the island. TB of Malagasy rainforest frogs differed between habitat types and thus appears to correlate with ecological niche. In particular, frogs measured in pond habitats had a higher TB across seasons than those sampled from streams, riparian zones, and terrestrial (including arboreal) habitats. Overall, TB of the 38 frog species ranged between 9.3 and 33.5 across habitats and diel cycle. This temperature range matches the optimal temperature range for Bd growth (17–23°C). We hypothesize that susceptibility to Bd might differ between frogs occupying different habitats. Pond-dwelling frogs may have more opportunities to clear Bd infection by choosing warm operative temperatures in sun-heated pond water. Our results highlight the need for more studies evaluating the seasonal fluctuations of field body temperatures in the studied amphibian species to contribute to a more reliable disease risk assessment.

Sinai N, Glos J, Mohan AV, Lyra ML, Riepe M, Thöle E, Zummach C, Ruthsatz K 2022 Developmental plasticity in amphibian larvae across the world: investigating the roles of temperature and latitude. J Therm Biol 106:103233.

Temperature-induced developmental plasticity could allow amphibian larvae to complete metamorphosis successfully despite new thermal challenges and increased desiccation risk due to climate change. Here we investigated how the capacity for temperature-induced developmental plasticity varies with latitude and whether population-specific biogeographic background accounts for the different degree of plastic responses to temperature. We carried out a combined analysis based on the data from 150 studies (93 articles) performed on 64 amphibian species. We collected empirical data for age and size at metamorphosis in amphibian larvae acclimated to different temperatures during development and found that all larvae from all populations in these studies revealed a change in metamorphic traits with a given change in temperature and thus, were able to exhibit temperature-induced developmental plasticity. Age at metamorphosis was more affected by temperature than size at metamorphosis. Age and size at the onset of metamorphosis were generally lowest at warmest temperatures during development. Furthermore, populations from tropical latitudes were less sensitive to a change in developmental temperature compared to populations from higher latitudes. Accordingly, we suggest tropical populations to be the most vulnerable to increasing temperatures during metamorphosis. Our analyses reveal biases with respect to taxonomy, biogeographic distribution of species, and study design. Data from tropical populations are underrepresented and thus, the capacity for developmental plasticity of the most threatened species probably remains poorly understood. Future studies should focus on under-represented regions, most threatened species, and include a broader range of temperatures during development in order to make robust projections on future sensitivity of populations to climate change.

Ruthsatz K, Domscheit M, Engelkes K, Vences M 2022 Microplastics ingestion induces plasticity in digestive morphology in larvae of Xenopus laevis. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol 269:111210.

Global changes in temperature, predator introductions, and pollution might challenge animals by altering food conditions. A fast-growing source of environmental pollution are microplastics. If ingested with the natural food source, microplastics act as artificial fibers that reduce food quality by decreasing nutrient and energy density with possible ramifications for growth and development. Animals might cope with altered food conditions with digestive plasticity. We examined experimentally whether larvae of the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) exhibit digestive morphology plasticity (i.e., gut length, mass, and diameter) in response to microplastics ingestion. As natural systems contain non-digestible particles similar in size and shape to microplastics, we included cellulose as a natural fiber control group. Gut length and mass increased in response to microplastics and cellulose ingestion indicating that both types of fibers induced digestive plasticity. Body mass and body condition were similar across experimental groups, indicating that larvae fully compensated for low nutrient and energy density by developing longer intestines. The ability of a species to respond plastically to environmental variation, as X. laevis responded, indicates that this species might have the potential to cope with new conditions during global change, although it is uncertain whether this potential may be reduced in a multi-stressor environment.

Ruthsatz K, Dausmann KH, Peck MA, Glos J 2022 Thermal tolerance and acclimation capacity in the European common frog (Rana temporaria) change throughout ontogeny. J Exp Zool A: Ecolog Integr Physiol 337:477-490.

Phenotypic plasticity may allow ectotherms with complex life histories such as amphibians to cope with climate-driven changes in their environment. Plasticity in thermal tolerance (i.e., shifts of thermal limits via acclimation to higher temperatures) has been proposed as a mechanism to cope with warming and extreme thermal events. However, thermal tolerance and, hence, acclimation capacity, is known to vary with life stage. Using the common frog (Rana temporaria) as a model species, we measured the capacity to adjust lower (CTmin) and upper (CTmax) critical thermal limits at different acclimation temperatures. We calculated the acclimation response ratio as a metric to assess the stage-specific acclimation capacity at each of seven consecutive ontogenetic stages and tested whether acclimation capacity was influenced by body mass and/or age. We further examined how acclimation temperature, body mass, age, and ontogenetic stage influenced CTmin and CTmax. In the temperate population of R. temporaria that we studied, thermal tolerance and acclimation capacity were affected by ontogenetic stage. However, acclimation capacity at both thermal limits was well below 100% at all life stages tested. The lowest and highest acclimation capacity in thermal limits was observed in young and late larvae, respectively. The relatively low acclimation capacity of young larvae highlights a clear risk of amphibian populations to ongoing climate change. Ignoring stage-specific differences in thermal physiology may drastically underestimate the climate vulnerability of species which will hamper successful conservation actions.


Ruthsatz K, Scherz MD, Vences M 2021 Dissecting the tree of life: the prospect of open-access digital resources in morphology, anatomy and taxonomy in training the next generation of zoologists. Zootaxa 5016:448-450. 10.11646/ZOOTAXA.5016.3.10

Despite an enormous boost of digital teaching due to Covid-19-related restrictions, the amount of open-access online teaching resources in zoology is relatively scarce beyond rather generalized high-school-level materials. For our own teaching, Katharina Ruthsatz, Mark D. Scherz, and Miguel Vences have developed a season of 14 guided video courses in animal anatomy and morphology for a general zoology lab for undergraduates at Braunschweig University of Technology (in German language). We are also making these videos available in English via a dedicated YouTube channel called Anatomy Insights. The videos give a brief overview of the taxonomy, biology, and ecology of the respective taxa and provide a step-by-step/real-time manual for dissection. While there is no substitute for practical anatomical experience, and dissection videos should supplement and must not replace hands-on dissection in anatomy courses at university level, such globally available resources serve to democratize access to education opportunities in animal morphology and taxonomy, while reducing the associated environmental and ethical footprint.


Ruthsatz K, Lyra ML, Lambertini C, Belasen AM, Jenkinson TS, da Silva Leite D, Becker CG, Haddad CFB, James TY, Zamudio KR, Toledo LF, Vences M (2020) Skin microbiome correlates with bioclimate and Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis infection intensity in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest treefrogs. Sci Rep 10:1-15.

In Brazil’s Atlantic Forest (AF) biodiversity conservation is of key importance since the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) has led to the rapid loss of amphibian populations here and worldwide. The impact of Bd on amphibians is determined by the host's immune system, of which the skin microbiome is a critical component. The richness and diversity of such cutaneous bacterial communities are known to be shaped by abiotic factors which thus may indirectly modulate host susceptibility to Bd. This study aimed to contribute to understanding the environment-host–pathogen interaction determining skin bacterial communities in 819 treefrogs (Anura: Hylidae and Phyllomedusidae) from 71 species sampled across the AF. We investigated whether abiotic factors influence the bacterial community richness and structure on the amphibian skin. We further tested for an association between skin bacterial community structure and Bd co-occurrence. Our data revealed that temperature, precipitation, and elevation consistently correlate with richness and diversity of the skin microbiome and also predict Bd infection status. Surprisingly, our data suggest a weak but significant positive correlation of Bd infection intensity and bacterial richness. We highlight the prospect of future experimental studies on the impact of changing environmental conditions associated with global change on environment-host–pathogen interactions in the AF.

Ruthsatz K, Dausmann KH, Paesler K, Babos P, Sabatino NM, Peck MA, Glos J (2020) Shifts in sensitivity of amphibian metamorphosis to endocrine disruption: the common frog (Rana temporaria) as a case study. Conserv Physiol 8:coaa100.

Effective conservation actions require knowledge on the sensitivity of species to pollution and other anthropogenic stressors. Many of these stressors are endocrine disruptors (EDs) that can impair the hypothalamus–pituitary–thyroid axis and thus alter thyroid hormone (TH) levels with physiological consequences to wildlife. Due to their specific habitat requirements, amphibians are often sentinels of environmental degradation. We investigated how altered TH levels affected the bioenergetics of growth and development (i.e. age, size, metabolism, cardiac function and energy stores) before, during and after metamorphosis in the European common frog (Rana temporaria). We also determined how ontogenetic stage affected susceptibility to endocrine disruption and estimated juvenile performance. TH levels significantly affected growth and energetics at all developmental stages. Tadpoles and froglets exposed to high TH levels were significantly younger, smaller and lighter at all stages compared to those in control and low TH groups, indicating increased developmental and reduced growth rates. Across all ontogenetic stages tested, physiological consequences were rapidly observed after exposure to EDs. High TH increased heart rate by an average of 86% and reduced energy stores (fat content) by 33% compared to controls. Effects of exposure were smallest after the completion of metamorphosis. Our results demonstrate that both morphological and physiological traits of the European common frog are strongly impacted by endocrine disruption and that ontogenetic stage modulates the sensitivity of this species to endocrine disruption. Since endocrine disruption during metamorphosis can impair the physiological stress response in later life stages, long-term studies examining carry-over effects will be an important contribution to the conservation physiology of amphibians.

Ruthsatz K, Dausmann KH, Reinhardt S, Robinson T, Sabatino NM, Peck M, Glos J (2020) Post-metamorphic carry-over effects of altered thyroid hormone level and developmental temperature: Physiological plasticity and body condition at two life stages in Rana temporaria. J Comp Physiol B 190:297-315.

Environmental stress induced by natural and anthropogenic processes including climate change may threaten the productivity of species and persistence of populations. Ectotherms can potentially cope with stressful conditions such as extremes in temperature by exhibiting physiological plasticity. Amphibian larvae experiencing stressful environments display altered thyroid hormone (TH) status with potential implications for physiological traits and acclimation capacity. We investigated how developmental temperature (Tdev) and altered TH levels (simulating proximate effects of environmental stress) influence the standard metabolic rate (SMR), body condition (BC), and thermal tolerance in metamorphic and post-metamorphic anuran larvae of the common frog (Rana temporaria) reared at five constant temperatures (14°-28°C). At metamorphosis, larvae that developed at higher temperatures had higher maximum thermal limits but narrower ranges in thermal tolerance. Mean CTmax was 37.63°C ± 0.14 (low TH), 36.49°C ± 0.31 (control), and 36.43°C ± 0.68 (high TH) in larvae acclimated to different temperatures. Larvae were able to acclimate to higher Tdev by adjusting their thermal tolerance, but not their SMR, and this effect was not impaired by altered TH levels. BC was reduced by 80% (metamorphic) and by 85% (postmetamorphic) at highest Tdev.The effect of stressful larval conditions (i.e. different developmental temperatures and, to some extent, altered TH levels) on SMR and particulary on BC at the onset of metamorphosis was carried over to froglets at the end of metamorphic climax. This has far reaching consequences since body condition at metamorphosis is known to determine metamorphic success and, thus, is indirectly linked to individual fitness in later life stages.

Glos J, Ruthsatz K, Schröder D, Riemann JC (2020) Food source determines stable isotope discrimination factors ΔN and ΔC in tadpoles. Amphibia Reptilia 1:1-7.

Analyses of stable isotope ratios are widely applied in studies on a large variety of aspects in trophic ecology. Most studies rely on a precise estimation of the relevant discrimination factor Δ (also called the fractionation factor), that reflects the fractionation or differences in isotope ratios of a certain element (mainly nitrogen N and carbon C) between an animal’s diet and its tissue and is used to identify one step in the food web. We experimentally determined ΔN and ΔC of two species of widespread amphibians in Europe, Rana temporaria and Bufo bufo, and tested for the effect of food source (cyanobacteria Spirulina vs. zooplanktonic Daphnia) on Δ and for interspecific differences. Our study shows high variation in Δ in relation to the food source, but low interspecific differences. Tadpoles that were fed with Spirulina did have considerably lower ΔN than tadpoles fed with Daphnia in both species, and lower ΔC only in R. temporaria. The range of Δ obtained here can be a useful baseline for future trophic studies on tadpoles of Rana and Bufo. The strong diet-dependency of Δ, however, argues strongly against the use of a fixed discrimination factor in future isotope studies.

Ruthsatz K, Dausmann KH, Drees C, Becker LI, Hartmann L, Reese J, Reinhardt S, Robinson T, Sabatino NM, Peck MA, Glos J (2020) Altered thyroid hormone levels affect the capacity for temperature-induced developmental plasticity in larvae of Rana temporaria and Xenopus laevis. J Therm Biol. 90:102599.

Anuran larvae show phenotypic plasticity in age and size at metamorphosis as a response to temperature variation. The capacity for temperature-induced developmental plasticity is determined by the thermal adaptation of a population. Multiple factors such as physiological responses to changing environmental conditions, however, might influence this capacity as well. In anuran larvae, thyroid hormone (TH) levels control growth and developmental rate and changes in TH status are a well-known stress response to sub-optimal environmental conditions. We investigated how chemically altered TH levels affect the capacity to exhibit temperature-induced developmental plasticity in larvae of the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) and the common frog (Rana temporaria). In both species, TH level influenced growth and developmental rate and modified the capacity for temperature-induced developmental plasticity. High TH levels reduced thermal sensitivity of metamorphic traits up to 57% (R. temporaria) and 36% (X. laevis). Rates of growth and development were more plastic in response to temperature in X. laevis (+30%) than in R. temporaria (+6%). Plasticity in rates of growth and development is beneficial to larvae in heterogeneous habitats as it allows a more rapid transition into the juvenile stage where rates of mortality are lower. Therefore, environmental stressors that increase endogenous TH levels and reduce temperature-dependent plasticity may increase risks and the vulnerability of anuran larvae. As TH status also influences metabolism, future studies should investigate whether reductions in physiological plasticity also increases the vulnerability of tadpoles to global change.


Ruthsatz K, Giertz LM, Schröder D & Glos J (2019) Chemical composition of food induces plasticity in digestive morphology in larval amphibians. Biol Open 8:bio048041.

Food conditions are changing due to anthropogenic activities and natural sources and thus, expose many species to new challenges. Animals might cope with altered quantitative and qualitative composition [i.e. variable protein, Nitrogen (N), and energy content] of food by exhibiting trophic and digestive plasticity. We examined experimentally whether tadpoles of the common frog (Rana temporaria) exhibit phenotypic plasticity of the oral apparatus and intestinal morphology when raised on a diet of either low (i.e. Spirulina algae) or high protein, N, and energy content (i.e., Daphnia pulex). Whereas intestinal morphology was highly plastic, oral morphology did not respond plastically to different chemical compositions of food. Tadpoles that were fed food with low protein and N content and low energy density developed significantly longer guts and a larger larval stomach than tadpoles raised on high protein and N and an energetically dense diet, and developed a different intestinal surface morphology. Body sizes of the treatment groups were similar, indicating that tadpoles fully compensated for low protein, N, and energy diet by developing longer intestines. The ability of a species to respond plastically to environmental variation, as R. temporaria, indicates that this species might have the potential to cope with new conditions during climate change.

Ruthsatz K, Dausmann KH, Reinhardt S, Robinson T, Sabatino NM, Peck M, Glos J (2019) Endocrine disruption alters developmental energy allocation and performance in Rana temporaria. Integr Comp Biol 59:70-88.

Environmental change exposes wildlife to a wide array of environmental stressors that arise from both anthropogenic and natural sources. Many environmental stressors with the ability to alter endocrine function are known as endocrine disruptors, which may impair the hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid axis resulting in physiological consequences to wildlife. In this study, we investigated how the alteration of thyroid hormone (TH) levels due to exposure to the environmentally relevant endocrine disruptor sodium perchlorate (SP; inhibitory) and exogenous L-thyroxin (T4; stimulatory) affects metabolic costs and energy allocation during and after metamorphosis in a common amphibian (R. temporaria). We further tested for possible carry-over effects of endocrine disruption during larval stage on juvenile performance. Energy allocated to development was negatively related to metabolic rate and thus, tadpoles exposed to T4 could allocate 24 % less energy to development during metamorphic climax than control animals. Therefore, the energy available for metamorphosis was reduced in tadpoles with increased TH level by exposure to T4. We suggest that differences in metabolic rate caused by altered TH levels during metamorphic climax and energy allocation to maintenance costs might have contributed to a reduced energetic efficiency in tadpoles with high TH levels. Differences in size and energetics persisted beyond the metamorphic boundary and impacted on juvenile performance. Performance differences are mainly related to strong size-effects as altered TH levels by exposure to T4 and SP significantly affected growth and developmental rate. Nevertheless, we assume that juvenile performance is influenced by a size-independent effect of achieved TH. Energetic efficiency varied between treatments due to differences in size allocation of internal macronutrient stores. Altered TH levels as caused by several environmental stressors lead to persisting effects on metamorphic traits and energetics and, thus, caused carry-over effects on performance of froglets. We demonstrate the mechanisms through which alterations in abiotic and biotic environmental factors can alter phenotypes at metamorphosis and reduce lifetime fitness in these and likely other amphibians.


Ruthsatz K, Peck MA, Dausmann KH, Sabatino NM & Glos J (2018) Patterns of temperature induced developmental plasticity in anuran larvae. J Therm Biol 74:123-132.

Anurans exhibit plasticity in the timing of metamorphosis and tadpoles show phenotypic plasticity in age and size at metamorphosis as a response to temperature variation. This developmental plasticity to changing thermal conditions is expected to be a primary factor that dictates the vulnerability of amphibians to increasing ambient temperatures such as are predicted in climate change scenarios. We analyzed the patterns of thermal effects on size and age at metamorphosis to investigate whether the intraspecific “temperature-size rule” is applicable over a broad range of anuran species by carrying out a combined analysis based on the data from 25 studies performed on 18 anuran species. Furthermore, we tested whether the thermal background of respective populations impacts the capacity for a plastic response in metamorphic traits. We could confirm this pattern for across-population comparisons. All included populations developed faster and 75% were smaller at the onset of metamorphosis when developmental temperatures were warmer, but the sensitivity of growth and developmental rate to a given temperature change was different. We found that the thermal background of a population influences the sensitivity of metamorphic traits and thus, the capacity for a plastic response in growth and developmental rate. Warm adapted populations were less sensitive to temperature variation indicating a reduced capacity for developmental plasticity and therefore, those species may be more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Future studies should include a broader range of rearing temperatures and temperature fluctuations to determine full knowledge of the capacity for developmental plasticity within a species-specific thermal window.

Ruthsatz K, Dausmann KH, Drees C, Becker LI, Hartmann L, Reese J, Sabatino NM, Peck MA & Glos J (2018) Altered thyroid hormone levels affect body condition at metamorphosis in larvae of Xenopus laevis. J Appl Toxicol 38:1416-1425.

Chemical, physical, and biological environmental stressors may affect the endocrine system such as the thyroid hormone axis in larval amphibians with consequences for energy partitioning among development, growth, and metabolism. We studied the effects of two thyroid hormone (TH) level affecting compounds, exogenous L-thyroxine (T4) and sodium perchlorate (SP), on various measures of development and body condition in larvae of the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis). We calculated the scaled mass index, the hepatosomatic index, and the relative tail muscle mass as body condition indices to estimate fitness. Altered TH levels significantly altered the growth, development, survival, and body condition in metamorphic larvae in different directions. While exogenous T4 reduced growth and accelerated development, SP treatment increased growth but slowed down development. Altered TH levels improved body conditions in both treatments and especially in larvae of the SP treatment but to the detriment of lower survival rates in both TH level altering treatments. The hepatosomatic index was negatively affected by exogenous T4, but not by SP treatment indicating a lower lipid reserve in the liver in larvae of T4 treatment. These altered TH levels as caused by several environmental stressors may have influence on individual fitness across life since body condition at the onset of metamorphosis determines metamorphic and juvenile survival. Further research is needed to determine synergetic effects of environmental stressors on TH levels and its effects on physiological traits such as metabolic rate.

Ruthsatz K, Dausmann KH, Peck MA, Drees C, Sabatino NM, Becker LI, Reese J, Hartmann L & Glos J (2018) Thyroid hormone levels and temperature during development alter thermal tolerance and energetics of Xenopus laevis larvae. Conserv Physiol 6:coy059.

Environmental variation induced by natural and anthropogenic processes including climate change may threaten species by causing environmental stress. Anuran larvae experiencing environmental stress may display altered thyroid hormone (TH) status with potential implications for physiological traits. Therefore, any capacity to adapt to environmental changes through plastic responses provides a key to determine species vulnerability to environmental variation. We investigated whether developmental temperature (Tdev), altered TH levels, and the interactive effect of both affect standard metabolic rate (SMR), body condition (BC), survival, and thermal tolerance in larvae of the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) reared at five temperatures with experimentally altered TH levels. At metamorphosis, SMR, BC, and survival were significantly affected by Tdev, TH status and their interaction with the latter often intensifying impacts. Larvae developing at warmer temperatures exhibited significantly higher SMRs and BC was reduced at warm Tdev and high TH levels suggesting decreased ability to acclimate to variation in temperature. Accordingly, tadpoles that developed at warm temperatures had higher maximum thermal limits but more narrow thermal tolerance windows. High and low TH levels decreased and increased upper thermal limits, respectively. Thus, when experiencing both warmer temperatures and environmental stress, larvae may be less able to compensate for changes in Tdev. Our results demonstrate that physiological traits in larvae of X. laevis are strongly affected by increased TH levels and warmer temperatures. Altered TH levels and increasing Tdev due to global change may result in a reduced capacity for physiological plasticity. This has far reaching consequences since the energetic requirement at the onset of metamorphosis is known to determine metamorphic success and thus, is indirectly linked to individual fitness in later life stages.

Conference talks

  • 09/202322nd SEH European Congress of Herpetology

    4 – 8 September 2023 in Wolverhampton (UK)
    Toads on ice: winter climate change affects the physiology of Bufo bufo during reproductive season.
  • 07/2023Society of Experimental Biology Centenary Conference

    3 – 7 July 2023 in Edinburgh (UK)
    Invited speaker for session AC1
    Toads on ice: physiological responses to changing winter climate in amphibians
  • 10/2022Society of Experimental Biology Early Career Researcher Symposium

    3 – 7 October 2022 in Hanko (FIN)
    A new actor on the stage of global change: Effects of microplastics pollution throughout amphibian metamorphosis.
  • 09/202221st SEH European Congress of Herpetology

    5 – 9 September 2022 in Belgrade (SER)
    Microplastics have sublethal effects on amphibian larvae and lead to post-metamorphic carry-over effects: A study with polyethylene microplastics and Xenopus laevis.
  • 08/2021113th Annual Meeting of the German Zoological Society (DZG)

    30 August – 3 September 2021
    (virtual meeting)
    Ontogenetic thermal tolerance and acclimation capacity in Rana temporaria
  • 01/2021Annual Meeting of the Society of Comparative and Integrative Biology

    3 January – 28 February 2021 in Washington D.C. (USA)
    (virtual meeting)
    Potential of thermal tolerance plasticity as a coping mechanism with global warming in amphibians
  • 01/20209th World Congress of Herpetology

    5 – 10 January 2020 in Dunedin (NZL)
    Endocrine disruption alters developmental body condition, energy allocation, and juvenile performance in Rana temporaria
  • 09/2019SEH 2019 20th European Congress of Herpetology

    2 –7 September 2019 in Milan (I)
    Energetic efficiency of metamorphosis in Rana temporaria
  • 11/2018International Conference of the German Herpetological Society (DGHT)

    24 – 25 November 2018 in Muenster/Westfalen (GER)
    Environmental temperature and developmental plasticity of the common frog (Rana temporaria)
  • 09/2018111th Annual Meeting of the German Zoological Society (DZG)

    10 – 15 September 2018 in Greifswald (GER)
    Altered thyroid hormone levels and developmental temperature affect the capacity for physiological acclimation in tadpoles of Rana temporaria and Xenopus laevis
  • 09/2017SEH 2017 19th European Congress of Herpetology

    18 – 23 September 2017 in Salzburg (AUT)
    Environmental stress as an endocrine disruptor in tadpoles of Xenopus laevis and Rana temporaria
  • 09/2015108th Annual Meeting of the German Zoological Society (DZG)

    10 – 15 September 2015 in Graz (AUT)
    Food quality induces plasticity in oral and intestinal morphology in larval amphibians

Poster presentation


Timing of parental breeding influences pollution sensitivity in the European common frog (Rana temporaria)

21st European Congress of Herpetology (2022). Ruthsatz K, Bartels F, Stützer D, Eterovick PC



Endocrine disruption affects the physiological ontogeny of a wide-spread European anuran

9th World Congress of Herpetology (2020). Ruthsatz K, Dausmann KH, Peck MA & Glos J



Energetic efficiency of metamorphosis in
Rana temporaria

9th World Congress of Herpetology (2020). Ruthsatz K, Dausmann KH, Peck MA & Glos J