Daphnia pulex from a pond in Northern Italy shows four distinct defensive morphotypes, varying in the number, location and thickness of neckteeth, as the results of phenotypic plasticity. Because the frequency of the morphotypes was not related to the density of Chaoborus flavicans larvae, the main predators of D. pulex, it has been suggested that environmental factors such as long-day photoperiod, temperature or crowding might act as proximate cues for the predation risk. Here, we analysed the morphotypes of newborn D. pulex produced by mothers not exposed to chemical cues (kairomones) released by Chaoborus, but reared under environmental conditions simulating seasonal differences in predation risk. Three experimental treatments, low temperature and short-day photoperiod (16 °C 12:12 L:D), high temperature and long-day photoperiod (20 °C 14:10 L:D), and crowding under high temperature and long-day photoperiod, were compared for three clonal lineages. Almost 70% of neonates produced one or more neckteeth, but the frequencies of different morphotypes varied significantly among clones and treatments, indicating that both abiotic (temperature and photoperiod) and biotic (crowding) environmental factors affected the development of neckteeth. A characteristic S-shaped relationship between percentages of neckteethed and total juveniles per female further suggests an antipredator adaptation to high prey density. Our findings support that environmental conditions serve as proximate cues of predation risk in D. pulex contributing to the phenotypic plasticity of the neckteeth number.
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