Background: Environmental stress can result in strong ecological and evolutionary effects on natural populations, but to what extent it drives adaptive divergence of natural populations is little explored. We used common garden experiments to study adaptive divergence in embryonic and larval fitness traits (embryonic survival, larval growth, and age and size at metamorphosis) in eight moor frog, Rana arvalis, populations inhabiting an acidification gradient (breeding pond pH 4.0 to 7.5) in southwestern Sweden. Embryos were raised until hatching at three (pH 4.0, 4.3 and 7.5) and larvae until metamorphosis at two (pH 4.3 and 7.5) pH treatments. To get insight into the putative selective agents along this environmental gradient, we measured relevant abiotic and biotic environmental variables from each breeding pond, and used linear models to test for phenotype-environment correlations.
Results: We found that acid origin populations had higher embryonic and larval acid tolerance (survival and larval period were less negatively affected by low pH), higher larval growth but slower larval development rates, and metamorphosed at a larger size. The phenotype-environment correlations revealed that divergence in embryonic acid tolerance and metamorphic size correlated most strongly with breeding pond pH, whereas divergence in larval period and larval growth correlated most strongly with latitude and predator density, respectively.
Conclusion: Our results suggest that R. arvalis has diverged in response to pH mediated selection along this acidification gradient. However, as latitude and pH were closely spatially correlated in this study, further studies are needed to disentangle the specific agents of natural selection along acidification gradients. Our study highlights the need to consider the multiple interacting selective forces that drive adaptive divergence of natural populations along environmental stress gradients.
2011. Vol. 11, 366- p.