Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 21, Issue 6, pp 751–764 | Cite as

Evolution of complex life cycles of amphibians: bridging the gap between metapopulation dynamics and life history evolution

  • James W. PetrankaEmail author
Original Paper


Current evolutionary models for amphibian life cycles reflect tradeoffs in size-specific growth and mortality rates between the aquatic and terrestrial stages. A limitation of these models is that they do not incorporate evolutionary phenomena that are associated with metapopulation structure. In this work I address components of the evolution of complex life cycles (CLCs) that are tied to the metapopulation dynamics of amphibians that use seasonal wetlands that vary in hydroperiod. In particular, I describe how selection for the minimum length of the larval period affects metapopulation viability and the selection/migration equilibrium. Selection to increase the minimum length of the larval period functionally reduces the number of viable breeding sites on the landscape, increases the average distance between neighboring sites, and increases the risk of metapopulation extinction. Within a metapopulation, asymmetric gene flow between populations that are adapted to different hydroperiods tends to swamp local selection for long larval periods at sites with long hydroperiods. The evolutionary stability of CLCs of many species with metapopulation structure may reflect the fact that extremely small metamorphs cannot survive on land, while lineages with long larval periods incur a high risk of metapopulation extinction. I encourage theorists to more carefully consider how life history traits and metapopulation viability are related for these and other taxa.


Amphibians Complex life cycles Metamorphosis Metapopulations Evolutionary constraints 



I thank C. Smith and M. Takahashi for their helpful criticisms and comments.


  1. Akcakaya HR (2005) RAMAS metapop: viability analysis for stage-structured metapopulations (version 5). Applied Biomathematics, Setauket, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  2. Alford RA (1999) Ecology: resource use, competition, and predation. In: McDiarmid RW, Altig R (eds) Tadpoles: the biology of anuran larvae. Univ Chicago Press, Chicago, ILGoogle Scholar
  3. Babbitt KJ, Baber MJ, Tarr TL (2003) Patterns of larval amphibian distribution along a wetland hydroperiod gradient. Can J Zool 81:1539–1552CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berven KA, Grudzien TA (1990) Dispersal in the wood frog (Rana sylvatica): implications for genetic population structure. Evolution 44:2047–2056CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brooks RT (2004) Weather-related effects on woodland vernal pool hydrology and hydroperiod. Wetlands 24:104–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bruce RC (2005) Theory of complex life cycles: application in plethodontid salamanders. Herpetol Monogr 19:180–207CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Denver RJ, Mirhadi N, Phillips M (1998) Adaptive plasticity in amphibian metamorphosis: response of Scaphiopus hammondii tadpoles to habitat desiccation. Ecology 79:1859–1872Google Scholar
  8. Duellman WE, Trueb L (1986) Biology of amphibians. McGraw-Hill, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Egan RS, Paton PWC (2004) Within-pond parameters affecting oviposition by wood frog and spotted salamanders. Wetlands 24:1–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Garcia-Ramos G, Kirkpatrick M (1997) Genetic models of adaptation and gene flow in peripheral populations. Evolution 51:21–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gibbs JP (1993) Importance of small wetlands for the persistence of local populations of wetland-associated animals. Wetlands 13:25–31Google Scholar
  12. Gibbs JP (2000) Wetland loss and biodiversity conservation. Cons Biol 14:314–317CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hanski IA, Gaggiotti OE (2004) Ecology, genetics, and evolution of metapopulations. Elsevier, Burlington, MAGoogle Scholar
  14. Gill DE (1978) Effective population size and interdemic migration rates in a metapopulation of the red-spotted newt, Notophthalmus viridescens (Rafinesque). Evolution 32:839–849CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Harris RN (1999) The anuran tadpole: evolution and maintenance. In: McDiarmid RW, Altig R (eds) Tadpoles: the biology of anuran larvae. Univ Chicago Press, Chicago, ILGoogle Scholar
  16. Hecnar SJ, M’Closkey RT (1996) Regional dynamics and the status of amphibians. Ecology 77:2091–2097CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Heino M, Hanski I (2001) Evolution of migration rate in a spatially realistic metapopulation model. Am Nat 157:495–511CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Hentschel BT (1999) Complex life cycles in a variable environment: predicting when the timing of metamorphosis shifts from resource dependent to developmentally fixed. Am Nat 154:549–558PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Istock CA (1967) The evolution of complex life cycle phenomena: an ecological perspective. Evolution 21:592–605CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lannoo MJ (2005) Amphibian declines: the conservation status of United States species. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, CAGoogle Scholar
  21. Marsh DM, Trenham PC (2001) Metapopulation dynamics and amphibian conservation. Cons Biol 15:40–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Paton PWC, Crouch III WB (2002) Using phenology of pond-breeding amphibians to develop conservation strategies. Cons Biol 18:194–204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Petranka JW, Sih A (1987) Habitat duration, length of larval period, and the evolution of a complex life cycle of a salamander, Ambystoma texanum. Evolution 41:1347–1356CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Petranka JW (1998) Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  25. Ronce O, Olivieri I (2004) Life history evolution in metapopulations. In: Hanski IA, Gaggiotti OE (eds) Ecology, genetics, and evolution of metapopulations. Elsevier, Burlington, MAGoogle Scholar
  26. Semlitsch RD (1998) Biological delineation of terrestrial buffer zones for pond-breeding salamanders. Cons Biol 12:1113–1119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Semlitsch RD (2002) Critical elements for biologically based recovery plans of aquatic breeding amphibians. Cons Biol 16:619–629CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Semlitsch RD (2003) Conservation of pond-breeding amphibians. In: Semlitsch RD (ed) Amphibian conservation. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  29. Semlitsch RD, Bodie JR (1998) Are small, isolated wetlands expendable? Cons Biol 12:1129–1133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Skelly DK, Werner EE, Cortwright SA (1999) Long-term distributional dynamics of a Michigan amphibian assemblage. Ecology 80:2326–2327CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Skidds E, Golet FC (2005) Estimating hydroperiod suitability for breeding amphibians in southern Rhode Island seasonal forest ponds. Wet Ecol Manage 13:349–366CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Sjögren P (1991) Extinction and isolation gradients in metapopulations: the case of the pool frog (Rana lessonae). Biol J Linn Soc 42:135–147Google Scholar
  33. Smith MA, Green DM (2005) Dispersal and the metapopulation paradigm in amphibian ecology and conservation: are all amphibian populations metapopulations? Ecogeography 28:110–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Smith-Gill SJ, Berven KA (1979) Predicting amphibian metamorphosis. Am Nat 113:563–585CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Stebbins RC, Cohen NW (1995) A natural history of amphibians. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New JerseyGoogle Scholar
  36. Travis J (1980) Phenotypic variation and the outcome of interspecific competition in hylid tadpoles. Evolution 34:40–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Travis J (1983) Variation in development patterns of larval anurans in temporary ponds. I. Persistent variation within a Hyla gratiosa population. Evolution 37:496–512CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Travis J (1984) Anuran size at metamorphosis: experimental test of a model based on intraspecific competition. Ecology 65:1155–1160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Wassersug RJ (1975) The adaptive significance of the tadpole stage with comments on the maintenance of complex life cycles in Anurans. Am Zool 15:405–417Google Scholar
  40. Wassersug RJ (1976) Oral morphology of anuran larvae: terminology and general description. Occas Papers Mus Nat Hist Univ Kansas 48:1–23Google Scholar
  41. Wellborn GA, Skelly DK, Werner EE (1996) Mechanisms creating community structure across a freshwater habitat gradient. Ann Rev Ecol Syst 27:337–363CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Werner EE (1986) Amphibian metamorphosis: growth rate, predation risk, and the optimal size at transformation. Am Nat 128:319–341CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Whitlock MC (2004) Selection and drift in metapopulations. In: Hanski IA, Gaggiotti OE (eds) Ecology, genetics, and evolution of metapopulations. Elsevier, Burlington, MAGoogle Scholar
  44. Wilbur HM, Collins JP (1973) Ecological aspects of amphibian metamorphosis. Science 182:1305–1314PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyThe University of North Carolina at AshevilleAshevilleUSA

Personalised recommendations