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Evolution. 2003 Apr;57(4):872-82.

Patterns of natural selection on size at metamorphosis in water frogs.

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  • 1Institute of Zoology, University of Zürich, Winterthurerstr. 190, CH-8057 Zürich, Switzerland.


Strategies for optimal metamorphosis are key adaptations in organisms with complex life cycles, and the components of the larval growth environment causing variation in this trait are well studied empirically and theoretically. However, when relating these findings to a broader evolutionary or ecological context, usually the following assumptions are made: (1) size at metamorphosis positively relates to future fitness, and (2) the larval growth environment affects fitness mainly through its effect on timing of and size at metamorphosis. These assumptions remain poorly tested, because data on postmetamorphic fitness components are still rare. We created variation in timing of and size at metamorphosis by manipulating larval competition, nonlethal presence of predators, pond drying, and onset of larval development, and measured the consequences for subsequent terrestrial survival and growth in 1564 individually marked water frogs (Rana lessonae and R. esculenta), raised in enclosures in their natural environment. Individuals metamorphosing at a large size had an increased chance of survival during the following terrestrial stage (mean linear selection gradient: 0.09), grew faster and were larger at maturity than individuals metamorphosing at smaller sizes. Late metamorphosing individuals had a lower survival rate (mean linear selection gradient: -0.03) and grew more slowly than early metamorphosing ones. We found these patterns to be consistent over the three years of the study and the two species, and the results did not depend on the nature of the larval growth manipulation. Furthermore, individuals did not compensate for a small size at metamorphosis by enhancing their postmetamorphic growth. Thus, we found simple relationships between larval growth and postmetamorphic fitness components, and support for this frequently made assumption. Our results suggest postmetamorphic selection for fast larval growth and provide a quantitative estimate for the water frog example.

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