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Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative

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Glacier fire
Dennis Divoky (Glacier NP fire manager) and Blake Hossack (ARMI) looking at the effects of the 2006 Red Eagle fire in Glacier NP. Photo by: USGS.

Fire is a natural and necessary component of some ecosystems and not others. In many regions of the country, it’s a management tool used to shift the structure, species, composition and chemistry of an ecosystem to a desired condition. Some predictions suggest that the continued alteration of the land combined with climate change will change the timing, frequency and intensity of fires throughout the country. These predictions underscore the importance of understanding the impacts of fire characteristics on potentially sensitive species. It is against this backdrop that ARMI scientists study the impacts of fires on amphibian communities.

ARMI Products on Fire

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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.

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This is an ARMI Product. Evolutionary dynamics of a rapidly receding southern range boundary in the threatened California Red-Legged Frog (Rana draytonii)
Authors: Richmond JQ, Barr KR, Backlin AR, Vandergast AG, Fisher RN | Date: 2013-02 | Outlet: Evolutionary Applications doi:10.1111/eva.12067 | Format: .PDF
Populations forming the edge of a species range are often imperiled by isolation and low genetic diversity, with proximity to human population centers being a major determinant of edge stability in modern landscapes. Since the 1960s, the California red-legged frog (Rana draytonii) has undergone extensive declines in urban-plagued southern California, where the range edge has rapidly contracted northward while shifting its cardinal orientation to an east-west trending axis. We studied the genetic structure and diversity of these front-line populations, tested for signatures of contemporary disturbance, specifically fire, and attempted to disentangle these signals from demographic events extending deeper into the past. Consistent with the genetic expectations of the ‘abundant-center’ model, we found that diversity, admixture and opportunity for random mating increases in populations sampled successively further away from the range boundary. Demographic simulations indicate that bottlenecks in peripheral isolates are associated with processes extending tens to a few hundred generations in the past, despite the demographic collapse of some populations due to recent fire-flood events. While the effects of recent disturbance have left little genetic imprint on these populations, they likely contribute to an extinction debt that will lead to continued range contraction unless management intervenes to stall or reverse the process.

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This is an ARMI Product. The precarious persistence of the endangered Sierra Madre yellow-legged frog (Rana muscosa) in southern California
Authors: Backlin AR, Hitchcock CJ, Gallegos EA, Yee JL, Fisher RN | Date: 2013 | Outlet: Oryx - International Journal of Conservation (in press) | Format: .PDF
We conducted surveys for the endangered Sierra Madre yellow-legged frog (Rana muscosa) throughout southern California to evaluate their current distribution and status. Surveys were conducted between 2000 and 2009 at 150 unique streams and lakes within the San Gabriel, San Bernardino, San Jacinto, and Palomar mountains of southern California. Of the 150 survey locations only nine small, geographically isolated, populations were detected across the four mountain ranges. The nine R. muscosa populations all tested positive for the amphibian chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis). Our data show that when R. muscosa is known to be present, it is highly detectable (89%) from a single visit during the frogs active season. We estimate there were only 166 adult frogs that remained in the wild in 2009. From our research, it appears that R. muscosa populations in southern California are extremely vulnerable to natural and stochastic events and may become extirpated in the near future without intervention.

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