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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. 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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S A Amburgey  
This is an ARMI Product. First Estimates of the Probability of Survival in a Small-bodied, High Elevation Frog or, how Historical Data Can Be Useful
Authors: Muths E, Scherer R D, Amburgey S M, Matthews T, Spencer A W, Corn P S | Date: 2016-06 | Outlet: Canadian Journal of Zoology, doi: 10.1139/cjz-2016-0024 | Format: .PDF
In an era of shrinking budgets yet increasing demands for conservation, the value of existing (i.e., historical) data is elevated. Lengthy time-series on common, or previously common, species are particularly valuable and may be available only through the use of historical information. We provide first estimates of the probability of survival and longevity (0.67-0.79; 5-7 yr) for a subalpine population of a small-bodied, ostensibly common amphibian, the boreal chorus frog, using historical data and contemporary, hypothesis-driven information-theoretic analyses. We also test a priori hypotheses about the effects of color morph (as suggested by early reports) and of drought (as suggested by recent climate predictions on survival). Using robust mark-recapture models, we find some support for early hypotheses regarding the effect of color on survival, but we find no effect of drought. The congruence between early findings and our analyses highlights the usefulness of historical information by providing raw data for contemporary analyses and context for conservation and management decisions.

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