Marsupial frogs have a unique reproductive mode in which females carry eggs enclosed in a sealed dorsal brood pouch. While most anurans are considered to be oviparous with lecithotrophic eggs, the extensively vascularized membrane of the brood pouch in marsupial frogs suggests potential opportunities for nutrient transfer. We tested for matrotrophy in the live-bearing Gastrotheca excubitor (Hemiphractidae), through feeding insects labelled with a 13C-fatty acid and a 15N-amino acid to brooding marsupial frogs. We observed significant increases of δ13C and δ15N in both maternal pouch tissues and embryos, suggesting nutrient transfer. Embryo dry mass also increased with developmental stage, providing further direct evidence for matrotrophy. These results suggest that in addition to gas exchange, the vascularized brood pouch membrane of G. excubitor also enables maternal nutrient transfer. This finding revealed a suspected but untested trait in the evolution of parental care in marsupial frogs, in contrast to previous work on Gastrotheca species that release tadpoles, and suggests greater complexity in reproductive and provisioning modes than previously thought.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3517482.
- Received August 15, 2016.
- Accepted October 5, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
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