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Longevity and population age structure of the arroyo southwestern toad (Anaxyrus californicus) with drought implications

May 20, 2018

The arroyo southwestern toad is a specialized and federally endangered amphibian endemic to the coastal plains and mountains of central and southern California and northwestern Baja California. It is largely unknown how long these toads live in natural systems, how their population demographics vary across occupied drainages, and how hydrology affects age structure. We used skeletochronology to estimate the ages of adult arroyo toads in seven occupied drainages with varying surface water hydrology in southern California. We processed 179 adult toads with age estimates between 1 and 6 years. Comparisons between skeletochronological ages and known ages of PIT tagged toads showed that skeletochronology likely underestimated toad age by up to 2 years, indicating they may live to 7 or 8 years, but nonetheless major patterns were evident. Arroyo toads showed sexual size dimorphism with adult females reaching a maximum size of 12 mm greater than males. Population age structure varied among the sites. Age structure at sites with seasonally predictable surface water was biased toward younger individuals, which indicated stable recruitment for these populations. Age structures at the ephemeral sites were biased toward older individuals with cohorts roughly corresponding to higher rainfall years. These populations are driven by surface water availability, a stochastic process, and thus more unstable. Based on our estimates of toad ages, climate predictions of extreme and prolonged drought events could mean that the number of consecutive dry years could surpass the maximum life span of toads making them vulnerable to extirpation, especially in ephemeral freshwater systems. Understanding the relationship between population demographics and hydrology is essential for predicting species resilience to projected changes in weather and rainfall patterns. The arroyo toad serves as a model for understanding potential responses to climatic and hydrologic changes in Mediterranean stream systems. We recommend development of adaptive management strategies to address these threats.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2018
Title Longevity and population age structure of the arroyo southwestern toad (Anaxyrus californicus) with drought implications
DOI 10.1002/ece3.4158
Authors Robert N. Fisher, Cheryl S. Brehme, Stacie A. Hathaway, Tim E. Hovey, Manna L. Warburton, Drew C. Stokes
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecology and Evolution
Index ID 70198551
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center