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Ecological adaptation drives wood frog population divergence in life history traits


Le Sage, Emily (2021), Ecological adaptation drives wood frog population divergence in life history traits, Dryad, Dataset,


Phenotypic variation among populations is thought to be generated from spatial heterogeneity in environments that exert selection pressures that overcome the effects of gene flow and genetic drift. Here, we tested for evidence of isolation by distance or by ecology (i.e., ecological adaptation) to generate variation in early life history traits and phenotypic plasticity among 13 wood frog populations spanning 1200 km and 7° latitude. We conducted a common garden experiment and related trait variation to an ecological gradient derived from an ecological niche model (ENM) validated to account for population density variation. Shorter larval periods, smaller body weight and relative leg lengths were exhibited by populations with colder mean annual temperatures, greater precipitation, and less seasonality in precipitation, and higher population density (high suitability ENM values). After accounting for neutral genetic variation, the QST–FST analysis supported ecological selection as the key process generating population divergence. Further, the relationship between ecology and traits was dependent upon larval density. Specifically, high suitability/high-density populations in the northern part of the range were better at coping with greater conspecific competition, evidenced by greater post-metamorphic survival and no difference in body weight when reared under stressful conditions of high larval density. Our results support that both climate and competition selection pressures drive clinal variation in larval and metamorphic traits in this species. Range-wide studies like this one are essential for accurate predictions of population’s responses to ongoing ecological change.