The federally threatened California red-legged frog (Rana aurora draytonii) has disappeared from much of its range for unknown reasons. We mapped 237 historic locations for the species and determined their current population status. Using a geographic information system (GIS), we determined latitude, elevation, and land use attributes for all sites and analyzed the spatial pattern of declines. We then compared the observed patterns of decline to those predicted by the climate change, UV-B radiation, pesticides, and habitat alteration hypotheses for amphibian decline. Declines were not consistent with the climate change hypothesis but showed a strong positive association with elevation, percentage upwind agricultural land use, and local urbanization. These results apply to patterns of decline across the entire range of R. a. draytonii in California, as well as within geographic subregions. The elevational gradient in declines is consistent with the UV-B hypothesis, although the UV-B hypothesis also predicts a north-to-south gradient in declines, which we did not observe. The association of declines with the amount of upwind agricultural land use strongly suggests that wind-borne agrochemicals may be an important factor in declines. This association was most pronounced within the Central Valley-Sierra region, where other studies have documented both transport and deposition of pesticides to the Sierra Nevada and the presence of pesticide residues in the bodies of congeneric (Rana muscosa) and more distantly related (Hyla regilla) frog species.
Additional publication details
Declines of the California red-legged frog: Climate, UV-B, habitat, and pesticides hypotheses