Reduction in the metabolic levels due to phenotypic plasticity in the {Pyrenean} newt, {Calotriton} asper, during cave colonization

According to theories on cave adaptation, cave organisms are expected to develop a lower metabolic rate compared to surface organisms as an adaptation to food scarcity in the subterranean environments. To test this hypothesis, we compared the oxygen consumption rates of the surface and subterranean populations of a surface-dwelling species, the newt Calotriton asper, occasionally found in caves. In this study, we designed a new experimental setup in which animals with free movement were monitored for several days in a respirometer. First, we measured the metabolic rates of individuals from the surface and subterranean populations, both maintained for eight years in captivity in a natural cave. We then tested individuals from these populations immediately after they were caught and one year later while being maintained in the cave. We found that the surface individuals that acclimated to the cave significantly reduced their oxygen consumption, whereas individuals from the subterranean population maintained in the cave under a light/dark cycle did not significantly modify their metabolic rates. Second, we compared these metabolic rates to those of an obligate subterranean salamander (Proteus anguinus), a surface aquatic Urodel (Ambystoma mexicanum), and a fish species (Gobio occitaniae) as references for surface organisms from different phyla. As predicted, we found differences between the subterranean and surface species, and the metabolic rates of surface and subterranean C. asper populations were between those of the obligate subterranean and surface species. These results suggest that the plasticity of the metabolism observed in surface C. asper was neither directly due to food availability in our experiments nor the light/dark conditions, but due to static temperatures. Moreover, we suggest that this adjustment of the metabolic level at a temperature close to the thermal optimum may further allow individual species to cope with the food limitations of the subterranean environment.


Reduction in the metabolic levels due to phenotypic plasticity in the {Pyrenean} newt, {Calotriton} asper, during cave colonization
Publication Type
Journal Article
Year of Publication
Ecology and Evolution
Submitted on 21 October 2021