Environmental stochasticity can have profound effects on the dynamics and viability of wild populations, and habitat heterogeneity provides one mechanism by which populations may be buffered against the negative effects of environmental fluctuations. Heterogeneity in breeding pond hydroperiod across the landscape may allow amphibian populations to persist despite variable interannual precipitation. We examined recruitment dynamics over 10 yr in a high-elevation Columbia spotted frog (Rana luteiventris) population that breeds in ponds with a variety of hydroperiods. We combined these data with matrix population models to quantify the consequences of heterogeneity in pond hydroperiod on net recruitment (i.e. number of metamorphs produced) and population growth rates. We compared our heterogeneous system to hypothetical homogeneous environments with only ephemeral ponds, only semi-permanent ponds, and only permanent ponds. We also examined the effects of breeding pond habitat loss on population growth rates. Most eggs were laid in permanent ponds each year, but survival to metamorphosis was highest in the semi-permanent ponds. Recruitment success varied by both year and pond type. Net recruitment and stochastic population growth rate were highest under a scenario with homogeneous semi-permanent ponds, but variability in recruitment was lowest in the scenario with the observed heterogeneity in hydroperiods. Loss of pond habitat decreased population growth rate, with greater decreases associated with loss of permanent and semi-permanent habitat. The presence of a diversity of pond hydroperiods on the landscape will influence population dynamics, including reducing variability in recruitment in an uncertain climatic future.
Additional publication details
Breeding site heterogeneity reduces variability in frog recruitment and population dynamics