Using physiological conditions to assess current and future habitat use of a Subarctic frog
Species with especially close dependence on the environment to meet physiological requirements, such as ectotherms, are highly susceptible to the impacts of climate change. Climate change is occurring rapidly in the Subarctic and Arctic, but there is limited knowledge on ectotherm physiology in these landscapes. We investigated how environmental conditions and habitat characteristics influence the physiological conditions and habitat use of wood frogs (Rana sylvatica, LeConte 1825) in a Subarctic landscape near Churchill, Manitoba (Canada). We used plaster models to estimate water loss rates and surface body temperatures among different habitat types and at specific locations used by radio-tracked frogs. Water loss (R^2 = 0.67) and surface temperature (R^2 = 0.80) of plaster models was similar to that of live frogs. Model-based water loss rates were greater in tundra habitat than in boreal forest and ecotone habitat. Habitat use of wood frogs was strongly tied with available surface moisture and decreased water loss rates that were observed with plaster models. Environmental conditions, such as wind speed and ground temperature, explained 58% and 91% of the variation in water balance and temperature of plaster models. Maintaining physiological conditions may be challenging for semi-aquatic ectotherms in environments vulnerable to future climate change. The ability to predict physiological conditions based on environmental conditions, as demonstrated in our study, can help understand how wildlife will respond to climatic changes.