Persistence at distributional edges: Columbia spotted frog habitat in the arid Great Basin, USA

Ecology and Evolution
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Abstract

A common challenge in the conservation of broadly distributed, yet imperiled species is understanding which factors facilitate persistence at distributional edges, locations where populations are often vulnerable to extirpation due to changes in climate, land use, or distributions of other species. For Columbia spotted frogs (Rana luteiventris) in the Great Basin (USA), a genetically distinct population segment of conservation concern, we approached this problem by examining (1) landscape-scale habitat availability and distribution, (2) water body-scale habitat associations, and (3) resource management-identified threats to persistence. We found that areas with perennial aquatic habitat and suitable climate are extremely limited in the southern portion of the species’ range. Within these suitable areas, native and non-native predators (trout and American bullfrogs [Lithobates catesbeianus]) are widespread and may further limit habitat availability in upper- and lower-elevation areas, respectively. At the water body scale, spotted frog occupancy was associated with deeper sites containing abundant emergent vegetation and nontrout fish species. Streams with American beaver (Castor canadensis) frequently had these structural characteristics and were significantly more likely to be occupied than ponds, lakes, streams without beaver, or streams with inactive beaver ponds, highlighting the importance of active manipulation of stream environments by beaver. Native and non-native trout reduced the likelihood of spotted frog occupancy, especially where emergent vegetation cover was sparse. Intensive livestock grazing, low aquatic connectivity, and ephemeral hydroperiods were also negatively associated with spotted frog occupancy. We conclude that persistence of this species at the arid end of its range has been largely facilitated by habitat stability (i.e., permanent hydroperiod), connectivity, predator-free refugia, and a commensalistic interaction with an ecosystem engineer. Beaver-induced changes to habitat quality, stability, and connectivity may increase spotted frog population resistance and resilience to seasonal drought, grazing, non-native predators, and climate change, factors which threaten local or regional persistence.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Persistence at distributional edges: Columbia spotted frog habitat in the arid Great Basin, USA
Series title Ecology and Evolution
DOI 10.1002/ece3.1627
Volume 5
Issue 17
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Description 21 p.
First page 3704
Last page 3724
Country United States
State California, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, Utah
Other Geospatial Great Basin
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N