Is body size of the water frog Rana esculenta complex responding to climate change?
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Recent studies on climate responses in ectothermic (cold-blooded) vertebrates have been few in number and focussed on phenology rather than morphology. According to Bergmann’s rule, endothermic (warm-blooded) vertebrates from cooler climates tend to be larger than congeners from warmer regions. Although amphibians are ectothermic vertebrates, weather and climatic conditions may also impact on their morphology, and thereby affect their survival rates and population dynamics. In this paper, we show, in a unique long-term study during the period 1963–2003 in an agricultural landscape in western Poland, that the body length of two water frog parental species (males of both Rana ridibunda and R. lessonae) increased significantly. However, their hybridogenetic hybrid R. esculenta did not show similar changes. A significant relationship with a large-scale climatic factor, the winter North Atlantic Oscillation index, was found positive for R. ridibunda males and R. lessonae females, and negative for R. esculenta females. Our findings, the first for amphibians, are consistent with other studies reporting that recent climate change has affected the morphology of animals. However, we also show that changes in amphibian phenotype linked to climate may vary independently between (even very similar) species.
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