Date of Award

5-22-2006

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Degree Program

Conservation Biology

Department

Biological Sciences

Major Professor

Pechmann, Joseph

Second Advisor

Crother, Brian

Third Advisor

Whitbeck, Julie

Fourth Advisor

Poirrier, Michael

Fifth Advisor

Devries, Philip

Abstract

Many amphibian populations are rapidly disappearing throughout the world. An important issue for ecologists is why some amphibian species are more susceptible to decline than others. Here I present five experiments that compare the performance of an endangered (Rana sevosa) and a common (Rana sphenocephala) frog in changing habitats, to determine why these two species differ in their persistence. I include additional studies investigating the habitat requirements and behavior of R. sevosa. I found that habitat change in the form of canopy closure over breeding ponds negatively affects both species, making them smaller as tadpoles and at metamorphosis. The magnitude of size differences was greater for R. sevosa and this species was less likely to survive in closed canopy ponds. Larval survival was not affected in R. sphenocephala and this is likely a key reason for the persistence of this species in habitats where R. sevosa has been extirpated. The introduction of fish to breeding ponds would also differentially affect the two species. R. sevosa did not display behavioral defenses to the threat of fish predation while R. sphenocephala did. R. sevosa displayed a preference for certain characteristics in its habitat including open canopy ponds, grassy terrestrial habitats and an abundance of burrows. An association with the chemical cues of burrow making organisms suggests that these organisms may be important for R. sevosa. Therefore, specialized habitat requirements and behaviors which may be contributing to its decline. I found some evidence of asymmetric competition in the larval stage with R. sevosa negatively affecting R. sphenocephala. It does not appear that larval competition with R. sphenocephala has contributed to the decline of R. sevosa. The primary difference between the two species was in responses to habitat change. R. sevosa appears to be rigid in its habitat requirements and behavior and its inability to respond and adapt to change is a key component of its rarity. By contrast R. sphenocephala showed an ability to cope with habitat changes. Conservation of R. sevosa will require suitable management of the aquatic and terrestrial habitats, primarily through the instigation of an appropriate fire regime.

Rights

The University of New Orleans and its agents retain the non-exclusive license to archive and make accessible this dissertation or thesis in whole or in part in all forms of media, now or hereafter known. The author retains all other ownership rights to the copyright of the thesis or dissertation.

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