The interaction of multiple environmental stressors affects adaptation to a novel habitat in the natterjack toad Bufo calamita


  • Present address: Maarten Hofman, Evolutionary Ecology Group/Department of Biology, University of Antwerpen, Groenenborgerlaan 171, 2020 Antwerpen, Belgium.

Björn Rogell, Population and Conservation Biology/Department of Ecology and Evolution, Evolutionary Biology Center, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 18D, 75236 Uppsala, Sweden.
Tel.: +46 18 471 26 37; fax: +46 18 471 64 24; e-mail:


The potential to adapt to novel environmental conditions is a key area of interest for evolutionary biology. However, the role of multiple selection pressures on adaptive responses has rarely been investigated in natural populations. In Sweden, the natterjack toad Bufo calamita inhabits two separate distribution areas, one in southernmost Sweden and one on the west coast. We characterized the larval habitat in terms of pond size and salinity in the two areas, and found that the western populations are more affected by both desiccation risk and pond salinity than the southern populations. In a common garden experiment manipulating salinity and temperature, we found that toads from the west coast populations were locally adapted to shorter pond duration as indicated by their higher development and growth rates. However, despite being subjected to higher salinity stress in nature, west coast toads had a poorer performance in saline treatments. We found that survival in the saline treatments in the west coast populations was positively affected by larger body mass and longer larval period. Furthermore, we found negative genetic correlations between body mass and growth rate and their plastic responses to salinity. These results implicate that the occurrence of multiple environmental stressors needs to be accounted for when assessing the adaptive potential of organisms and suggest that genetic correlations may play a role in constraining adaptation of natural populations.