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Evolution. 2006 Jan;60(1):142-56.

Ecological and developmental context of natural selection: maternal effects and thermally induced plasticity in the frog Bombina orientalis.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Reed College, Portland, Oregon 97202, USA.


Variation in fitness generated by differences in functional performance can often be traced to morphological variation among individuals within natural populations. However, morphological variation itself is strongly influenced by environmental factors (e.g., temperature) and maternal effects (e.g., variation in egg size). Understanding the full ecological context of individual variation and natural selection therefore requires an integrated view of how the interaction between the environment and development structures differences in morphology, performance, and fitness. Here we use naturally occurring environmental and maternal variation in the frog Bombina orientalis in South Korea to show that ovum size, average temperature, and variance in temperature during the early developmental period affect body sizes, shapes, locomotor performance, and ultimately the probability of an individual surviving interspecific predation in predictable but nonadditive ways. Specifically, environmental variability can significantly change the relationship between maternal investment in offspring and offspring fitness so that increased maternal investment can actually negatively affect offspring over a broad range of environments. Integrating environmental variation and developmental processes into traditional approaches of studying phenotypic variation and natural selection is likely to provide a more complete picture of the ecological context of evolutionary change.

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