Are high-latitude individuals superior competitors? A test with Rana temporaria tadpoles
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Species with a wide distribution over latitudinal gradients often exhibit increasing growth and development rates towards higher latitudes. Ecological theory predicts that these fast-growing genotypes are, in the absence of trade-offs with fast growth, better competitors than low-latitude conspecifics. While knowledge on key ecological traits along latitudinal clines is important for understanding how these clines are maintained, the relative competitive ability of high latitude individuals against low latitude conspecifics has not been tested. Growth and development rates of the common frog Rana temporaria increase along the latitudinal gradient across Scandinavia. Here we investigated larval competition over food resources within and between two R. temporaria populations originating from southern and northern Sweden in an outdoor common garden experiment. We used a factorial design, where southern and northern tadpoles were reared either as single populations or as mixes of the two populations at two densities and predator treatments (absence and non-lethal presence of Aeshna dragonfly larvae). Tadpoles from the high latitude population grew and developed faster and in the beginning of the experiment they hid less and were more active than tadpoles from the low latitude population. When raised together with high latitude tadpoles the southern tadpoles had a longer larval period, however, the response of high latitude tadpoles to the competition by low latitude tadpoles did not differ from their response to intra-population competition. This result was not significantly affected by density or predator treatments. Our results support the hypothesis that high latitude populations are better competitors than their low latitude conspecifics, and suggest that in R. temporaria fast growth and development trade off with other fitness components along the latitudinal gradient across Scandinavia.