In ectotherms, variation in life history traits among populations is common and suggests local adaptation. However, geographic variation itself is not a proof for local adaptation, as genetic drift and gene flow may also shape patterns of quantitative variation. We studied local and regional variation in means and phenotypic plasticity of larval life history traits in the common frog Rana temporaria using six populations from central Sweden, breeding in either open-canopy or partially closed-canopy ponds. To separate local adaptation from genetic drift, we compared differentiation in quantitative genetic traits (QST) obtained from a common garden experiment with differentiation in presumably neutral microsatellite markers (FST). We found that R. temporaria populations differ in means and plasticities of life history traits in different temperatures at local, and in FST at regional scale. Comparisons of differentiation in quantitative traits and in molecular markers suggested that natural selection was responsible for the divergence in growth and development rates as well as in temperature-induced plasticity, indicating local adaptation. However, at low temperature, the role of genetic drift could not be separated from selection. Phenotypes were correlated with forest canopy closure, but not with geographical or genetic distance. These results indicate that local adaptation can evolve in the presence of ongoing gene flow among the populations, and that natural selection is strong in this system.
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