Frog speeds up offspring’s development

A species of frog has been discovered to increase the rate at which their offspring grow and develop in response to delayed breeding, a study has found.

The research, conducted by scientists at the University of Uppsala, looked at whether delaying the breeding time of the moor frog, Rana arvalis,  had any influence on the growth and development rates of the frog’s offspring.

As many organisms have experienced shifts in their breeding patterns due to climate change, the study also hoped to examine whether these climatic changes had any effect on the life cycle of the moor frog.

Researchers collected frogs from two separate populations in Sweden and kept them under laboratory conditions to eliminate the effects that environmental cues would have on the frogs.

Moor frog (Billy Lindblom, Flickr)

The absence of environmental cues was to show that if any changes in growth and development time did occur, these would likely be due to a maternal origin and not associated with external cues such as day length or temperature.

Results from the study, published in the journal Ecology, found that tadpoles that were delayed in being conceived were more likely to grow and develop quicker.

The researchers observed that a breeding delay of two weeks caused the tadpoles to increase their growth rate by 27% and their development rate by 15%.

Researchers propose that these changes are induced by an internal biological clock within the maternal sex cell to provide the offspring with an accurate idea of time.

It is thought that the ability for tadpoles to increase their growth and development rate optimizes their timing to metamorphosis so the offspring are not restricted in obtaining resources to survive hibernation over winter.

The findings are interesting in relation to climate change as it reveals that some species are capable of adapting to altering environmental changes without reducing their fitness.

Organisms are highly adapted to synchronise many of their life events, including breeding, with external conditions.

Changing the timing of these events, such as those due to climate change, is likely to have a negative impact on many species that cannot alter their synchronisation patterns to keep up with this change.

The maternal influence that moor frogs have on their offspring’s growth rate and development suggests to scientists a very important mechanism in how some species will react to climate change.

Read the full paper: Transgenerational phenotypic plasticity links breeding phenology with offspring life-history

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Amy Moore

Amy is currently studying for a Masters in Science Communication. Follow her on twitter @_Amy_Moore91

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