The degree of adaptive phenotypic plasticity is correlated with the spatial environmental heterogeneity experienced by island populations of Rana temporaria


M. I. Lind, Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umeå University, 901 87 Umeå, Sweden.
Tel.: +46 90 786 66 37; fax: +46 90 786 67 05; e-mail:


Although theoretical models have identified environmental heterogeneity as a prerequisite for the evolution of adaptive plasticity, this relationship has not yet been demonstrated experimentally. Because of pool desiccation risk, adaptation of development rate is important for many amphibians. In a simulated pool-drying experiment, we compared the development time and phenotypic plasticity in development time of populations of the common frog Rana temporaria, originating from 14 neighbouring islands off the coast of northern Sweden. Drying regime of pools used by frogs for breeding differed within and among the islands. We found that the degree of phenotypic plasticity in development time was positively correlated with the spatial variation in the pool-drying regimes present on each island. In addition, local adaptation in development time to the mean drying rate of the pools on each island was found. Hence, our study demonstrates the connection between environmental heterogeneity and developmental plasticity at the island population level, and also highlights the importance of the interplay between local specialization and phenotypic plasticity depending on the local selection pressures.