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Context dependent variation in corticosterone and phenotypic divergence of Rana arvalis populations along an acidification gradient

Cite this dataset

Räsänen, Katja; Mausbach, Jelena; Laurila, Anssi (2022). Context dependent variation in corticosterone and phenotypic divergence of Rana arvalis populations along an acidification gradient [Dataset]. Dryad.



Physiological processes, as immediate responses to the environment, are important mechanisms of phenotypic plasticity and can influence evolution at ecological time scales. In stressful environments, physiological stress responses of individuals are initiated and integrated via the release of hormones, such as corticosterone (CORT). In vertebrates, CORT influences energy metabolism and resource allocation to multiple fitness traits (e.g. growth and morphology) and can be an important mediator of rapid adaptation to environmental stress, such as acidification. The moor frog, Rana arvalis, shows adaptive divergence in larval life-histories and predator defense traits along an acidification gradient in Sweden. Here we take a first step to understanding the role of CORT in this adaptive divergence. We conducted a fully factorial laboratory experiment and reared tadpoles from three populations (one acidic, one neutral and one intermediate pH origin) in two pH treatments (Acid versus Neutral pH) from hatching to metamorphosis. We tested how the populations differ in tadpole CORT profiles and how CORT is associated with tadpole life-history and morphological traits.


We found clear differences among the populations in CORT profiles across the developmental stages, but only weak effects of pH treatment on CORT. Tadpoles from the acid origin population had, on average, lower CORT levels than tadpoles from the neutral origin population, and the intermediate pH origin population had intermediate CORT levels. Overall, tadpoles with higher CORT levels developed faster and had shorter and shallower tails as well as shallower tail muscles.


Our common garden results indicate among population divergence in CORT levels, likely reflecting acidification mediated divergent selection on tadpole physiology, concomitant to selection on larval life-histories and morphology. However, CORT levels were highly environmental context dependent. Jointly these results indicate a potential role for CORT as a mediator of multi-trait divergence along environmental stress gradients in natural populations. At the same time, the population level differences and high context dependency in CORT levels suggest that snapshot assessment of CORT in nature may not be reliable bioindicators of stress.


The methods include laboratory rearing.


Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Forschung, Award: 31003A_166201