The European pool frog, Rana lessonae, is widely polymorphic for two common alleles (b, e) at the lactate dehydrogenase-B (LDH-B) locus. We compared fitness-related larval life-history traits among LDH-B genotypes, which originated from segregation in heterozygous parents, in an artificial pond experiment where tadpoles of R. lessonae from a Swiss population were raised together with tadpoles of the hemiclonal hybrid R. esculenta at two densities. In R. lessonae, LDH-B e/e homozygotes at each density had a higher proportion of metamorphs among survivors, reached metamorphosis earlier, and were heavier at metamorphosis than b/b homozygotes; b/e heterozygotes had intermediate values. That e/e individuals were superior to b/b in both time to and mass at metamorphosis is surprising because these two life-history traits are thought to reflect a performance trade-off; e/e genotypes apparently compensated for shorter time to metamorphosis by a higher growth rate. The two alleles showed the same performance ranking when combined in hybrids with a R. ridibunda allele: When R. esculenta from Swiss populations reared in the same ponds had received the e allele rather than the b allele from their R. lessonae parent, they reached metamorphosis earlier, but did not differ in mass at metamorphosis. The degree of linkage disequilibrium in the source population of the eight R. lessonae used as parents of the R. lessonae tadpoles is unknown, so we cannot exclude the possibility that the performance differences are caused by some anonymous tightly linked gene, rather than the LDH-B locus, that constitutes the genomically localized target of natural selection. A causal involvement of LDH-B is plausible, nevertheless, because this enzyme takes part in the central energy-metabolizing processes and has been reported to underlie fitness differences in other animals; also, differential performance of LDH-B genotypes has been observed in R. lessonae larvae from another population. The present results suggest strong directional selection for allele e; the sum of available data, including an independent laboratory experiment, suggests that partial environment-dependent overdominance combined with balancing selection favoring e/e homozygotes under some and b/b homozygotes under other conditions may be partially responsible for the broad maintenance of the LDH-B polymorphism in R. lessonae.
Corresponding Editor: E. Brodie III