Southern Rocky Mountain Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative (ARMI)

Research Project: 

BA09FDA.5

Project Manager: 

Erin Muths
Amphibians, Erin Muths research. Photo David Herasimtschuk
A boreal toad. Photo by David Herasimtschuk.

Introduction:

Declines of amphibian populations of varying severity have been observed for many years.(1) Concern among conservation biologists increased dramatically after the first World Congress of Herpetology meeting in 1989 where evidence of recent declines and discussions among the attendees heightened interest about the status of amphibians globally. The consensus of the participants of that meeting was that amphibian declines were real but documentation was largely anecdotal, and much work was needed on the causes of declines. Now, nearly three decades after the problem was identified, declines are still occurring. While progress has been made, and a number of putative causes have been recognized, (such as emerging infectious disease, landscape changes, changing climate and drought) the mechanisms driving the observed declines are still unclear.

A focus on mechanism and a more synthetic approach are needed to use the critical building blocks of information provided by ongoing and planned basic research. We are focusing on question-driven research and a variety of techniques to address the needs of this research. Techniques will vary not only by the questions asked, but also by lifestage as amphibians exhibit many life-history strategies and occupy a variety of habitats - both aquatic and terrestrial. For example, In Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), a majority of the amphibians present are pond-breeders. Methods for sampling pond-breeding species are relatively well understood, and several published guides exist. Sampling protocols (2) are tailored to habitat, but can be scaled up to inform broader–scale inferences.(3) Disease prevention precautions will be adhered to and will follow standard protocols developed by the Declining Amphibian Population Task Force.

Objectives:

The primary goal of this project is to develop research in order to examine amphibian declines and mechanisms behind those declines in the United States, and in particular the Rocky Mountains, to contribute to the overarching goals of ARMI as set forth in the National Plan. Specific objectives include:

  • use occupancy methods to examine existing and historical amphibian sites in RMNP and other locations to determine and document evidence of reproduction
  • initiate
  • additional research as applicable in the Rocky Mountain Region and southwest ARMI regions (e.g. Chiricahua leopard frog occupancy, dispersal and habitat use)
  • support expansion of ongoing boreal toad (Bufo boreas) population studies and reintroductions in the Rocky Mountain Region and southwest ARMI regions
  • provide information to managers as they develop conservation plans or strategies for amphibians
  • initiate long-term population studies of woodfrogs and chorus frogs, or other species. (For  example,  estimate numbers of wood frogs or wood frog populations and document reproductive success over time.)
  • design research studies to provide information useful in determining causes of amphibian declines
  • participate and provide data for broader efforts that scale information up to the national or global level

Methodology:

A variety of techniques will be used because amphibians exhibit many life history strategies and occupy a variety of habitats. For example, in Rocky Mountain National Park, a majority of the amphibians present are primarily pond-breeders. Methods for sampling pond-breeding species are relatively well understood, and several published guides exist. Sampling protocols will be appropriate to the questions asked.(4) Disease prevention precautions will be adhered to and will follow standard protocols developed by the Declining Amphibian Population Task Force. Site selection for large scale occupancy analyses will be determined by the questions asked, and will be random or stratified and may be based on historical records of amphibian habitat suitability, or accessibility. Other protocols (e.g. capture - recapture, egg mass counts) will be considered as necessary. Research (e.g. at Apex sites) will address specific questions that are well defined and use methods most appropriate to acquire the data. This may include intensive, long-term observations to provide information on the inherent variability of amphibian populations and how populations respond to stressors, or an assessment of phenology that can be addressed using automated frog call recorders, or demographic questions requiring a capture-recapture approach.

1. Bragg 1960, Gibbs and others 1971, Cooke 1972, Beebee 1973, Bury and others 1980, Andrén and Nilson 1981, Hammerson 1999, Corn and Fogleman 1984, Hayes and Jennings 1986, Heyer and others 1994

2. McKenzie et al. 2002, Muths et al. 2005, Muths et al. 2008, 2011, Pilliod et al 2010

3. Adams et al. 2013

4. McKenzie et al. 2002, Muths et al. 2005, Muths et al. 2008, 2011, Pilliod et al 2010

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