Amphibians in freshwater coastal wetlands periodically experience acute exposure to salinity from hurricane-related overwash events, as well as chronic exposure associated with rising sea levels. In a comparative experimental approach, we examined whether seven species of anuran amphibians vary in their tolerance to changes in salinity. In a laboratory study, we exposed larval Hyla cinerea (Green Treefrog), H. squirella (Squirrel Treefrog), Lithobates catesbeianus (American Bullfrog), L. sphenocephalus (Southern Leopard Frog), Anaxyrus terrestris (Southern Toad), and Gastrophryne carolinensis (Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad) from an inland population in north central Florida, USA, and Osteopilus septentrionalis (Cuban Treefrog) tadpoles from an inland population in southwest Florida, to acute salinity for 72 h. For each species, we replicated trials in which tadpoles were exposed to salinities of 0.2 (control), 5, 10, 12, 14, and 16 ppt. For all species, tadpoles reared in the control and 5 ppt treatments had 96.7–100% survival. No individuals of G. carolinensis survived at salinities exceeding 5 ppt and no individuals of any species survived in the 14 or 16 ppt treatments. For all other native species, survival at 10 ppt ranged from 46.7 to 80%, but declined to 0% at 12 ppt (except for H. cinerea, of which only 3.3% survived at 12 ppt). In contrast, all individuals of the invasive, non-native O. septentrionalis survived exposure to a salinity of 10 ppt, and survival in this species remained relatively high at 12 ppt. Our results illustrate that the non-native O. septentrionalis has a higher salinity tolerance than the native species tested, which may contribute to its invasion potential. Moreover, species commonly associated with coastal freshwater wetlands differ in their salinity tolerances, suggesting that salt water intrusion due to storm surges and sea level rise may affect the species composition of these ecosystems.
Additional publication details
Variation in salinity tolerance among larval anurans: implications for community composition and the spread of an invasive, non-native species
American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists