Acid precipitation studies in Colorado and Wyoming: interim report of surveys of montane amphibians and water chemistry

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Acid deposition may be detrimental or stressful to native populations of wildlife. Because many species of amphibians breed in shallow ponds created by spring rains or melting snow, they may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of acidification. From 1986 to 1988, we surveyed 105 locations in the central Rocky Mountains where amphibians had been recorded previously, and we found that two species of amphibians had experiences major losses. We found the northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens) at only 4 of 33 (12%) historically known localities, and the boreal toad (Bufo boreas) was present at 10 of 59 (17%) known localities. Three other species have not suffered region-wide declines. Tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum) and wood frogs (Rana sylvatica) were present at 45% and 69% of known localities respectively, and were observed at several localities were they had not been recorded previously. Chorus frogs (Pseudacris triseriata) suffered a catastrophic decline in population size in one population monitored since 1961, but regionally, this species was observed in 36 of 56 (64%) known localities and in another 19 localities where there were no previous records.

Complete water chemistry was recorded for 41 localities, and pH was measured at 110 sites in total. Acid neutralizing capacity, pH, specific conductivity, and cation concentrations were negatively correlated with elevation. However, in mountain ponds and lakes, pH was rarely less than 6.0 during the amphibian breeding season.

We tested the tolerance of embryos of the four species of frogs to low pH. The LC50 pH was 4.8 for chorus frogs, 4.4-4.7 for leopard frogs, 4.4-4.5 for boreal toads, and 4.2-4.3 for wood frogs. Survival of wood frog embryos declined when exposed to aluminum concentrations of 100 µg/L or greater, but boreal toad embryos survived exposure to aluminum concentrations of 400 µg/L.

Acid deposition does not appear to be a major factor in the decline of leopard frogs and boreal toads. However, we have not yet investigated effects of sublethal pH on growth and development of tadpoles. Pollution remains suspect, but other factors, including natural fluctuations in population size, may account for the observed declines.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Other Report
Title Acid precipitation studies in Colorado and Wyoming: interim report of surveys of montane amphibians and water chemistry
Series number Biological Report 80(40.26)
Year Published 1989
Language English
Publisher U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service
Publisher location Washington, D.C.
Description 56 p.
Country United States
State Colorado;Wyoming
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