Organisms living in seasonal environments are often limited by the time available to complete their development. Especially individuals in northern populations may face severe time constraints in their need of completing development before the end of the growth season. Larval amphibians have been widely used in studies of phenotypic plasticity. However, their responses to changes in photoperiod, the main seasonal cue in many organisms, are unknown. In a laboratory experiment, we studied whether common frog (Rana temporaria) tadpoles originating from two populations (separated latitudinally by 1600 km) adjust their growth and development according to the progress of the season by using photoperiodic cues, and whether these responses are temperature dependent. We hypothesised that if frogs use photoperiod as a cue, they should increase growth and development rates as a response to photoperiodic treatments mimicking progressing season. Although our predictions were not verified in either of the populations, photoperiod manipulations had effects on larval life history in both populations. When exposed to progressing season treatments and high temperature, tadpoles from the southern population ceased feeding which led to delayed metamorphosis and increased mortality. In the northern population, age at metamorphosis was unaffected by the photoperiod treatments, but growth rate until metamorphosis and metamorphic size were slightly larger in the treatments with shorter (increasing or decreasing) day length. Irrespective of photoperiod treatments, growth and development rates, size at metamorphosis and food consumption were higher in the northern as compared to the southern population. These results indicate that in contrast to several insect species, the critical life history decisions in amphibian larvae may not be strongly influenced by photoperiodic cues, but different populations seem to differ in this respect. However, the strong temperature x photoperiod interactions in several traits in the southern population suggest that the role of photoperiodic cues may be affected by other environmental factors, although the ecological significance of these differences remains unclear.
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