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Thermal conditions predict intraspecific variation in senescence rate in frogs and toads

December 7, 2021

Variation in temperature is known to influence mortality patterns in ectotherms. Even though a few experimental studies on model organisms have reported a positive relationship between temperature and actuarial senescence (i.e., the increase in mortality risk with age), how variation in climate influences the senescence rate across the range of a species is still poorly understood in free-ranging animals. We filled this knowledge gap by investigating the relationships linking senescence rate, adult lifespan, and climatic conditions using long-term capture–recapture data from multiple amphibian populations. We considered two pairs of related anuran species from the Ranidae (Rana luteiventris and Rana temporaria) and Bufonidae (Anaxyrus boreas and Bufo bufo) families, which diverged more than 100 Mya and are broadly distributed in North America and Europe. Senescence rates were positively associated with mean annual temperature in all species. In addition, lifespan was negatively correlated with mean annual temperature in all species except A. boreas. In both R. luteiventris and A. boreas, mean annual precipitation and human environmental footprint both had negligible effects on senescence rates or lifespans. Overall, our findings demonstrate the critical influence of thermal conditions on mortality patterns across anuran species from temperate regions. In the current context of further global temperature increases predicted by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scenarios, a widespread acceleration of aging in amphibians is expected to occur in the decades to come, which might threaten even more seriously the viability of populations and exacerbate global decline.