Hibernal habitat selection by Wood Frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus) in a northern New England montane landscape

Journal of Herpetology
By: , and 



Poikilothermic species, such as amphibians, endure harsh winter conditions via freeze-tolerance or freeze-avoidance strategies. Freeze-tolerance requires a suite of complex, physiological mechanisms (e.g., cryoprotectant synthesis); however, behavioral strategies (e.g., hibernal habitat selection) may be used to regulate hibernaculum temperatures and promote overwintering survival. We investigated the hibernal ecology of the freeze-tolerant Wood Frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) in north-central Maine. Our objectives were to characterize the species hibernaculum microclimate (temperature, relative humidity), evaluate hibernal habitat selection, and describe the spatial arrangement of breeding, post-breeding, and hibernal habitats. We monitored 15 frogs during two winters (2011/12: N = 10; 2012/13: N = 5), measured hibernal habitat features at micro (2 m) and macro (10 m) spatial scales, and recorded microclimate hourly in three strata (hibernaculum, leaf litter, ambient air). We compared these data to that of 57 random locations with logistic regression models, Akaike Information Criterion, and Kolmogorov–Smirnov tests. Hibernaculum microclimate was significantly different and less variable than leaf litter, ambient air, and random location microclimate. Model averaging indicated that canopy cover (−), leaf litter depth (+), and number of logs and stumps (+; microhabitat only) were important predictors of Wood Frog hibernal habitat. These habitat features likely act to insulate hibernating frogs from extreme and variable air temperatures. For example, decreased canopy cover facilitates increased snowpack depth and earlier snowpack accumulation and melt. Altered winter temperature and precipitation patterns attributable to climate change may reduce snowpack insulation, facilitate greater temperature variation in the underlying hibernacula, and potentially compromise Wood Frog winter survival.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Hibernal habitat selection by Wood Frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus) in a northern New England montane landscape
Series title Journal of Herpetology
DOI 10.1670/15-131R1
Volume 50
Issue 4
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher The Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Leetown
Description 11 p.
First page 559
Last page 569
Country United States
State Maine
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