In contrast to most local amphibian populations, northeastern populations of the Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens) have displayed uncharacteristically high levels of genetic diversity that have been attributed to large, stable populations. However, this widely distributed species also occurs in areas known for great climatic fluctuations that should be reflected in corresponding fluctuations in population sizes and reduced genetic diversity. To test our hypothesis that Northern Leopard Frog genetic diversity would be reduced in areas subjected to significant climate variability, we examined the genetic diversity of L. pipiens collected from 12 sites within the Prairie Pothole Region of North Dakota. Despite the region's fluctuating climate that includes periods of recurring drought and deluge, we found unexpectedly high levels of genetic diversity approaching that of northeastern populations. Further, genetic structure at a landscape scale was strikingly homogeneous; genetic differentiation estimates (Dest) averaged 0.10 (SD = 0.036) across the six microsatellite loci we studied, and two Bayesian assignment tests (STRUCTURE and BAPS) failed to reveal the development of significant population structure across the 68 km breadth of our study area. These results suggest that L. pipiens in the Prairie Pothole Region consists of a large, panmictic population capable of maintaining high genetic diversity in the face of marked climate variability.
Additional publication details
Complex spatial dynamics maintain northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens) genetic diversity in a temporally varying landscape