In many permanent ponds throughout western North America, the introduction of a variety of exotic fish and bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) correlates with declines in native amphibians. Direct effects of exotics are suspected to be responsible for the rarity of some native amphibians and are one hypothesis to explain the prevalence of amphibian declines in western North America. However, the prediction that the permanent ponds occupied by exotics would be suitable for native amphibians if exotics were absent has not been tested. I used a series of enclosure experiments to test whether survival of northern red-legged frog (Rana aurora aurora) and Pacific treefrog (Hyla regilla) larvae is equal in permanent and temporary ponds in the Puget Lowlands, Washington State, USA. I also examined the direct effects of bullfrog larvae and sunfish. Survival of both species of native anuran larvae was generally lower in permanent ponds. Only one permanent pond out of six was an exception to this pattern and exhibited increased larval survival rates in the absence of direct effects by exotics. The presence of fish in enclosures reduced survival to near zero for both native species. An effect of bullfrog larvae on Pacific treefrog larval survival was not detected, but effects on red-legged frog larvae were mixed. A hypothesis that food limitation is responsible for the low survival of native larvae in some permanent ponds was not supported. My results confirm that direct negative effects of exotic vertebrates on native anurans occur but suggest that they may not be important to broad distribution patterns. Instead, habitat gradients or indirect effects of exotics appear to play major roles. I found support for the role of permanence as a structuring agent for pond communities in the Puget Lowlands, but neither permanence nor exotic vertebrates fully explained the observed variability in larval anuran survival.
Additional publication details
Pond permanence and the effects of exotic vertebrates on anurans