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Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative

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Climate Change

Ground truthing
Robert Fisher and Stacey Hathaway (ARMI) ground-truthing potential desert-frog breeding sites selected using remote sensing of soil characteristics derived from known breeding site. Photo by: C. Schwalbe.

Freshwater wetlands provide critical habitat for a diverse array of organisms including many amphibians. Yet, under the continued impacts of water diversions and the newer threats of climate change, these habitats are among the most imperiled ecosystems on Earth. Climate change has the potential to alter many sources of water critical to the habitats amphibians need, especially those associated with breeding and development. Potential changes include: change in timing and availability of water from glacier melt, snow and rain timing and amount; persistence of vernal pools and seasonal wetlands; altered evapotranspiration rates; and reduced stream flows and groundwater recharge rates.

Other ecosystem components likely to change in response to climate change include the timing and frequency of fires, the spread of invasive plants and animals, and microclimates in which the animals live.

ARMI Products on Climate Change

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This is an ARMI Product. Declines revisited: long-term recovery and spatial population dynamics of tailed frog larvae after wildfire
Authors: Hossack BR, Honeycutt RK | Outlet: Biological Conservation
Drought has fueled an increased frequency and severity of large wildfires in many ecosystems. Despite an increase in research on wildfire effects on vertebrates, the vast majority of it has focused on short-term (<5 yrs) effects and there is still little information on the time scale of population recovery for species that decline in abundance after fire. In 2003, a large wildfire in Montana (USA) burned the watersheds of four of eight streams that we sampled for larval Rocky Mountain tailed frogs (Ascaphus montanus) in 2001. Surveys during 2004?2005 revealed reduced abundance of larvae in burned streams relative to unburned streams, with greater declines associated with increased fire extent. Rocky Mountain tailed frogs have low vagility and have several unusual life-history traits that could slow population recovery, including an extended larval period (4 yrs), delayed sexual maturity (6?8 yrs), and low fecundity (<50 eggs/yr). To determine if abundance remained depressed since the 2003 wildfire, we repeated surveys during 2014?2015 and found relative abundance of larvae in burned and unburned streams had nearly converged to pre-fire conditions within two generations. The negative effects of burn extent on larval abundance weakened >58% within 12 yrs after the fire. We also found moderate synchrony among populations in unburned streams and negative spatial autocorrelation among populations in burned streams. We suspect negative spatial autocorrelation among spatially-clustered burned streams reflected increased post-fire patchiness in resources and different rates of local recovery. Our results add to a growing body of work that suggests populations in intact ecosystems tend to be resilient to habitat changes caused by wildfire. Our results also provide important insights into recovery times of populations that have been negatively affected by severe wildfire.

This is an ARMI Product. Additive impacts of experimental climate change increase risk to an ectotherm at the Arctic’s edge
Authors: Davenport JM, Hossack BR, Fishback L | Outlet: Global Change Biology
Globally, Arctic and Subarctic regions have experienced the greatest temperature increases during the last 30 years. These extreme changes have amplified threats to the freshwater ecosystems that dominate the landscape in many areas by altering water budgets. Several studies in temperate environments have examined the adaptive capacity of organisms to enhance our understanding of the potential repercussions of warming and associated accelerated drying for freshwater ecosystems. However, few experiments have examined these impacts in Arctic or Subarctic freshwater ecosystems, where the climate is changing most rapidly. To evaluate the capacity of a widespread ectotherm to anticipated environmental changes, we conducted a mesocosm experiment with wood frogs (Rana sylvatica) in the Canadian Subarctic. Three warming treatments were fully crossed with three drying treatments to simulate a range of predicted changes in wetland environments. We predicted wetland warming and drying would act synergistically, with water temperature partially compensating for some of the negative effects of accelerated drying. Across all drying regimes, a 1°C increase in water temperature increased the odds of survival by 1.79, and tadpoles in 52-day and 64-day hydroperiod mesocosms were 4.1–4.3 times more likely to survive to metamorphosis than tadpoles in 45-day mesocosms. For individuals who survived to metamorphosis, there was only a weak negative effect of temperature on size. As expected, increased temperatures accelerated tadpole growth through day 30 of the experiment. Our results reveal that one of the dominant herbivores in Subarctic wetlands, wood frog tadpoles, are capable of increasing their developmental rates in response to increased temperature and accelerated drying, but only in an additive manner. The strong negative effects of drying on survival, combined with lack of compensation between these two environmental drivers, suggest changes in the aquatic environment that are expected in this ecosystem will reduce mean fitness of populations across the landscape.

This is an ARMI Product. Evaluating within-population variability in behavior and demography for the adaptive potential of a dispersal-limited species to climate change.
Authors: Muñoz DJ, Hesed KM, Grant EHC, Miller DAW | Outlet: Ecology and Evolution
Multiple pathways exist for species to respond to changing climates. However, responses of dispersal-limited species will be more strongly tied to ability to adapt within existing populations as rates of environmental change will likely exceed movement rates. Here, we assess adaptive capacity in Plethodon cinereus, a dispersal-limited woodland salamander. We quantify plasticity in behavior and variation in demography to observed variation in environmental variables over a 5 year period. We found strong evidence that temperature and rainfall influence P. cinereus surface presence, indicating changes in climate are likely to affect seasonal activity patterns. We also found that warmer summer temperatures reduced individual growth rates into the autumn, which is likely to have negative demographic consequences. Reduced growth rates may delay reproductive maturity and lead to reductions in size-specific fecundity, potentially reducing population level persistence. To better understand within-population variability in responses, we examined differences between two common color morphs. Previous evidence suggests that the color polymorphism may be linked to physiological differences in heat and moisture tolerance. We found only moderate support for morph-specific differences for the relationship between individual growth and temperature. Measuring environmental sensitivity to climatic variability is the first step in predicting species’ responses to climate change. Our results suggest phenological shifts and changes in growth rates are likely responses under scenarios where further warming occurs, and we discuss possible adaptive strategies for resulting selective pressures.  

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