Factors limiting the recovery of boreal toads (Bufo b. boreas)

By: , and 
Edited by: M. Lannoo



Boreal toads (Bufo b. boreas) are widely distributed over much of the mountainous western United States. Populations in the Southern Rocky Mountains suffered extensive declines in the late 1970s through early 1980s (Carey, 1993). At the time, these mass mortalities were thought to be associated with a bacterial infection (Carey, 1993). Although the few populations that survived the mass die-offs were not systematically monitored until at least 1993, no mass mortalities had been observed until 1996 when die-offs were observed. A mycotic skin infection associated with a chytrid fungus is now causing mortality of toads in at least two of the populations (M.S. Jones and D.E. Green, unpublished data; Muths et al., 2003). Boreal toads are now absent throughout large areas of their former distribution in Colorado and southern Wyoming and may be extinct in New Mexico (Corn et al., 1989; Carey, 1993; Stuart and Painter, 1994). These toads are classified as “endangered” by Colorado and New Mexico and are designated as a protected non-game species in Wyoming. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has categorized the Southern Rocky Mountain populations for federal listing and is currently reviewing their designation as a “warranted but precluded” species for possible listing in the next few years. For the management of boreal toads and their habitats, a Boreal Toad Recovery Team was formed by the Colorado Division of Wildlife in 1995 as part of a collaborative effort with federal agencies within the United States’ departments of the Interior and Agriculture and with agencies in two adjoining states. To date, conservation agreements have been signed by eight state and federal agencies and by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program.
Although boreal toads were considered common throughout their range in Colorado, no comprehensive surveys of the numbers and sizes of their populations were conducted prior to mass die-offs in the 1970s. Surveys completed in the late 1980s to early 1990s, however, indicated that the toads were still present in only one of 377 historical sites in parts of western Colorado (Hammerson, 1992) and in about 17% of previously known sites in the Colorado Front Range (Corn et al., 1989). Once common in Rocky Mountain National Park, boreal toads are now found at only seven localities, with just two or three of these populations likely to be reproducing successfully each year (Corn et al., 1997). Intensive surveys by the Boreal Toad Recovery Team since 1995 have found about 50 breeding sites comprising 25 distinct populations within Colorado (Loeffler, unpublished data). Of these populations, most are small (fewer than five egg clutches laid per year) and may not survive over the long term.
Efforts to restore population sizes and expand the geographical distribution of boreal toads in the southern Rocky Mountains have involved considerable person-hours and financial commitments. Special care has been taken to protect habitats and, when feasible, to improve sites where breeding populations currently exist. However, initial attempts to repatriate these toads in historic habitats in which boreal toads were present before 1975 have generally proven unsuccessful (Carey, unpublished data; Muths et al., 2003). It is too early to determine if recent repatriations will establish breeding populations (Scherff-Norris, 1999), but these efforts will likely continue. Despite the best human intentions and efforts, the recovery of former population sizes and the historical distribution of boreal toads will greatly depend on its own life history characteristics. However, as we will review in this paper, environmental factors affect many life history attributes in a manner that poses serious obstacles for recovery.

Study Area

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Factors limiting the recovery of boreal toads (Bufo b. boreas)
Year Published 2005
Language English
Publisher University of California Press
Publisher location Berkeley, CA
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center, Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Description 15 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Monograph
Larger Work Title Amphibian declines: The conservation status of United States species
First page 222
Last page 236
Country United States
State Colorado
Other Geospatial Clear Creek, Rocky Mountain National Park, West Elk Mountains
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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