Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Forestry and Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Skelly, David


Wild organisms can rapidly adapt to changing environments, even at fine spatial scales. This fact prompts hope that contemporary local adaptation may buffer some of the negative anthropogenic impacts to ecosystems. However, there are limits to the pace of adaptation. Understanding the adaptive potential—and limitations—of individual species at fine-resolution is an important task if we hope to accurately predict the repercussions of future climate and landscape change on biodiversity. My dissertation takes advantage of an uncommonly long-observed and closely-studied system to paint a comprehensive picture of evolution over time in association with shifts in ecological contexts. In this dissertation, I show evidence of rapid, microgeographic evolution in response to climate within a metapopulation of wood frogs (Rana sylvatica). Critically, I show that populations separated by tens to hundreds of meters—well within the dispersal ability of the species—exhibited considerable shifts in development rates over a period of two decades, or roughly 6-9 generations. Using historical climate data and new methods of assessing landscape change, I show that these changes were mainly a response to warming climates. The ecological contexts experienced by the metapopulation are associated with the evolution of physiological rates. Specifically, I show that climate change seems to have caused a counter-intuitive delay in spring breeding phenology while drought and warming later in the larval development period correspond with a shift toward earlier metamorphosis. The picture that emerges is of a contracting developmental window, which is expected to select for faster intrinsic development rates. Superimposed on the metapopulation-wide shift to faster development was a pattern of counter-gradient variation reflecting a similar pattern seen two decades prior. Furthermore, I empirically demonstrate a trade-off between faster development and a swimming performance trait that strongly contributes to fitness. This trade-off helps to explain why intrinsic development rates vary spatially with pond temperatures, but in the opposite direction of the relationship with temperature over time. Though the evidence for rapid adaptation to climate change presented in this dissertation reveals that evolution can buffer populations from extinction, it also entreats caution. There is a clear trend of demographic decline among wood frog populations that experienced greater magnitudes of environmental change. In fact, the three populations that suffered local extinctions over the 20-year course of observations inhabited ponds characterized by the greatest change in temperature or canopy.