Habitat selection, movement patterns, and hazards encountered by northern leopard frogs (Lithobates pipiens) in an agricultural landscape

Herpetological Conservation and Biology

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Telemetry data for 59 Northern Leopard Frogs (Lithobates pipiens) breeding in ponds in Houston and Winona Counties, MN; 2001-2002. Agricultural intensification is causing declines in many wildlife species, including Northern Leopard Frogs (Lithobates pipiens). Specific information about frog movements, habitat selection, and sources of mortality can be used to inform conservation-focused land management and acquisition. We studied Northern Leopard Frogs in southeastern Minnesota, part of the Driftless Area ecoregion, characterized by hills and valleys and a mix of agriculture, forests, small towns and farmsteads. In this area, small farm ponds, originally built to control soil erosion are used by the species for breeding and wintering in addition to riparian wetlands. But, this agricultural landscape may be hazardous for frogs moving between breeding, feeding, and wintering habitats. We surgically implanted transmitters into the peritoneal cavity of 59 Northern Leopard Frogs and tracked them from May to October 2001-2002. The total distance traveled by radio-tagged frogs ranged from 12 to 3316 m, the 95% home range averaged 5.3 ± 1.2 (SE) ha, and the 50% core area averaged 1.05 ± 0.3 (SE) ha. As expected, Northern Leopard Frogs selected wetlands over all other land cover classes and row crops were generally avoided at all levels of selection. Only a few tracked frogs were successful at dispersing (n = 6). Most frogs attempting to disperse (n =31) ended up missing (n = 14), died due to mowing (n = 8), or were recorded as transmitter failure (n = 2) or unknown mortalities (n = 1). For the conservation of Northern Leopard Frogs in this agricultural setting, we must consider both the aquatic and the terrestrial needs of this species. Conservation agencies that restore, manage, and acquire wetlands should consider the hazards posed by land uses adjacent to frog breeding and wintering sites and plan for movement corridors between these locations. For example, grasslands that are mowed or hayed between April and October in the north central U.S. and are adjacent to wetlands, pose a direct threat to frogs because these cultivated grasslands are primary locations for summer occupancy. When conservation land managers are selecting sites for acquisition or restoration they should avoid investments that will situate the wetland adjacent to heavily travelled roads and agricultural lands likely to be mowed or hayed. Increasing habitat amount and quality at amphibian breeding, feeding and wintering sites should reduce the energy required and hazards associated with moving long distances. Large, diverse wetlands probably provide all of the requirements needed by Northern Leopard Frogs for survival including food, shelter, breeding and overwintering areas.

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Journal Article
Habitat selection, movement patterns, and hazards encountered by northern leopard frogs (Lithobates pipiens) in an agricultural landscape
Series title:
Herpetological Conservation and Biology
Year Published:
Herpetological Conservation and Biology
Contributing office(s):
Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center
18 p.
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United States
Houston County, Winona County