The federally threatened California red-legged frog Rana aurora draytonii occupies both aquatic and terrestrial habitats in its adult life stage. The terrestrial activities of this species are not well known and require documentation to assist in the development of appropriate levels of protection under the US Endangered Species Act. We studied the terrestrial activities of radio-tagged red-legged frogs (n = 8-26) inhabiting a coastal watershed in Santa Cruz County, California, during 1997-1998. In particular, we investigated (1) the use of terrestrial habitats by non-migrating adults in relation to season, breeding chronology, and precipitation, and (2) adult migration behavior, including seasonal timing, duration, distances traveled, and the use of corridors. Non-migrating red-legged frogs occupied terrestrial habitats briefly (median = 4-6 days) following infrequent summer rains, but resided nearly continuously on land (median = 20-30 days) from the onset of the winter wet-season until breeding activities commenced 1-2 months later. All of the non-migrating frogs remained within 130 m of their aquatic site of residence (median <25 m). Intervals spent on land were again brief during mid/late winter (median = 1-4 days), despite frequent and copious rainfall. Adult migration to and from breeding sites occurred from late October through mid-May (wet season). We monitored 25 migration events between aquatic sites that were 200-2800 m apart. Short distance movements ( <300 m) were completed in 1-3 days, longer movements required up to 2 months. Most migrating frogs moved overland in approximately straight lines to target sites without apparent regard to vegetation type or topography. Riparian corridors were neither essential nor preferred as migration routes. Frogs traveling overland occurred in upland habitats as far as 500 m from water. Approximately 11-22% of the adult population was estimated to migrate to and from breeding sites annually, whereas the bulk of the adult population was resident at these sites. Adequate protection of red-legged frog populations inhabiting relatively undeveloped landscapes is liable to be achieved by retaining an array of suitable habitat elements within at least 100 m of occupied aquatic sites, and by imposing seasonal limitations on detrimental human activities occurring within this zone. Specific protections for migrating frogs are probably unwarranted in forest and rangeland environments because dispersal habitat is ubiquitous and migrating frogs are widely distributed across the landscape in space and time. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd.
Additional publication details
Terrestrial activity and conservation of adult California red-legged frogs Rana aurora draytonii in coastal forests and grasslands