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For Amphibian Week 2024, FORT is celebrating four athletic amphibians from Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP): the western tiger salamander, the wood frog, the boreal chorus frog, and the boreal toad. These four species endure some of the toughest conditions an amphibian can experience including over eight months of snow each year, hot and dry summer conditions, and unpredictable wildfires.

researcher holds a Western Tiger Salamander
Western tiger salamander in Rocky Mountain National Park
gloved hand holds a frog, pond in the background
Wood frog in Rocky Mountain National Park
gloved hand holds a frog
Boreal chorus frog in Rocky Mountain National Park
a gloved hand holds a small frog
Young boreal toad in Rocky Mountain National Park


Over evolutionary time, these four species have successfully evolved to conquer and thrive in this extreme world, but can they continue to compete in a rapidly changing environment? 

In addition to the already extreme conditions, vegetation in parts of the park with high amphibian diversity has transitioned from willow-dominated to grass-dominated due to unchecked herbivory, which in turn has altered and reduced the wetlands that amphibians depend on. On top of this, visitor use has skyrocketed over the last decade and impacts by visitors on amphibians are not well understood. FORT scientists have been monitoring these four species since the late 1980s and data from three species (western tiger salamander, boreal chorus frog, and wood frog) contributed to a recent analysis led by Amanda Kissel that aims to understand if these amphibians are keeping pace as additional stressors are piled on.

To do this, Kissel and colleagues painstakingly compiled a time series of amphibian surveys conducted by USGS in RMNP from 1988 through 2019. They then chose the most surveyed sites from the time series to revisit between 2020 and 2022 to get a snapshot of the current status of amphibians in the park. They analyzed these data as a function of changes in climate, vegetation, and visitor use to see if amphibians were continuing to occupy sites where they historically occurred. 

These results will soon be published in a peer-reviewed journal. They have also been shared with RMNP park biologists with the goal of guiding further research on how visitor use and vegetation changes directly impact amphibians and what steps could be taken to mitigate these impacts so that the endurance athletes of RMNP can continued to be admired by all. 

photo researchers working around a pond, mountains in the background
USGS and NPS employees monitoring for amphibians in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo by Amanda Kissel.


Participate in Amphibian Week 2024

Get your #AmphibianGameFace on! Whether they hop, swim, climb, or crawl, our slimy friends have many amazing athletic qualities! Amphibian enthusiasts will be celebrating these amazing athletes, their adaptations, and their accomplishments this #AmphibianWeek2024. Hop in and join the fun!


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Vote for the USGS contender, the rough-skinned newt, as the most Extreme Amphibian Athlete

Vote for the USGS contender, the rough-skinned newt, as the most Extreme Amphibian Athlete

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