Naturally occurring variation in tadpole morphology and performance linked to predator regime
Divergent natural selection drives a considerable amount of the phenotypic and genetic variation observed in natural populations. For example, variation in the predator community can generate conflicting selection on behavioral, life-history, morphological, and performance traits. Differences in predator regime can subsequently increase phenotypic and genetic variations in the population and result in the evolution of reproductive barriers (ecological speciation) or phenotypic plasticity. We evaluated morphology and swimming performance in field collected Bronze Frog larvae (Lithobates clamitans) in ponds dominated by predatory fish and those dominated by invertebrate predators. Based on previous experimental findings, we hypothesized that tadpoles from fish-dominated ponds would have small bodies, long tails, and large tail muscles and that these features would facilitate fast-start speed. We also expected to see increased tail fin depth (i.e., the tail-lure morphology) in tadpoles from invertebrate-dominated ponds. Our results support our expectations with respect to morphology in affecting swimming performance of tadpoles in fish-dominated ponds. Furthermore, it is likely that divergent natural selection is playing a role in the diversification on morphology and locomotor performance in this system.