RARMI: Fort Collins Science Center (FORT) Apex Sites

Science Center Objects

FORT is monitoring populations of amphibians at three apex sites using capture-recapture methods. Our goal in monitoring populations is to detect fluctuations in population size, sex ratio, survival, and recruitment. Through long-term monitoring, we can also address breeding phenology in relation to elevation, weather, and climate. Other specific questions can be asked about issues such as breeding behavior, disease, and use of habitat. We are monitoring boreal toad populations and wood frogs in Rocky Mountain National Park and chorus frogs at Cameron Pass in Northern Colorado. In collaboration with the NOROCK team and David Pilliod, we are monitoring a site in Wyoming where boreal toads appear to be surviving, and thriving in spite of the presence of the amphibian chytrid fungus.

Red spotted toad.
Red spotted toad.Public domain

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

While boreal toads (Bufo boreas) were formerly common in Rocky Mountain National Park, in recent years only three known breeding sites existed in the Park. We have been studying one  metapopulation since 1991. We began capture - recapture work on the third population in 2001. In 2003 we located a new, undocumented breeding site in the park and in 2008, in collaboration with Rocky Mountain National Park we bagan a multi-year reintroduction project. Chytrid fungus is present at most of these sites and is likely contributing to the declines we are observing. We are currently using visual encounter surveys, capture-recapture methods and radiotelemetry to examine these populations. We have also examined the potential causes of decline using modeling and an information-theoretic approach to analysis.

On the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, we are studying a population of wood frogs (Rana sylvatica). We are using visual encounter surveys, capture-recapture and radio telemetry to examine use of habitat during the breeding season. Wood frogs were recently removed from the Colorado list of threatened species and appear to be doing well in the park. This project initiated a long-term, landscape level investigation that focuses on wood frogs and chorus frogs including capture - recapture methods, genetic studies and telemetry. This population is also part of a landscape-scale Ph.D. project.

Cameron Pass, CO

We continue to monitor two populations of chorus frogs at sites where data have been collected annually since the 1960s, a project started by Drs. David Pettus and Albert Spencer. This sort of long-term, detailed, about population characteristics is rare but very important for amphibian conservation efforts. We use capture-recapture methods to track population changes over time and automated frog call recording systems to collect data during the breeding season. We have addressed acid precipitation, breeding phenology, and climate change at this site. Chorus frogs, although very small (approximately 3 cm snout-vent length) have unique spot patterns on their backs. We are collaborating with Dr. Pilliod to exploit these unique patterns to develop a photographic method for identifying individuals. We are sponsoring a post-doctoral scientist in collaboration with Dr. Chris Funk, at Colorado State University, to expand our understanding of chorus frogs in this area of Colorado. We will be incorporating landscape genetics and behavior in a project beginning in 2009.

Blackrock, WY

We have been monitoring boreal toads at this site near the Buffalo Fork River since 2002. This population appears to be breeding and doing well in spite of a relatively high prevalence of the amphibian chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, Bd). We are using capture-recapture techniques and modeling to investigate the effects of Bd on this population. This is a relatively new study, but with time, will provide detailed, long-term information about population characteristics and response to disease.