Chilled frogs are hot: hibernation and reproduction of the Endangered mountain yellow-legged frog Rana muscosa

Abstract

In the face of the sixth great extinction crisis, it is imperative to establish effective breeding protocols for amphibian conservation breeding programs. Captive efforts should not proceed by trial and error, nor should they jump prematurely to assisted reproduction techniques, which can be invasive, difficult, costly, and, at times, counterproductive. Instead, conservation practitioners should first look to nature for guidance, and replicate key conditions found in nature in the captive environment, according to the ecological and behavioral requirements of the species. We tested the effect of a natural hibernation regime on reproductive behaviors and body condition in the Endangered mountain yellow-legged frog Rana muscosa. Hibernation had a clear positive effect on reproductive behavior, manifesting in vocal advertisement signaling, female receptivity, amplexus, and oviposition. These behaviors are critical components of courtship that lead to successful reproduction. Our main finding was that captive R. muscosa require a hibernation period for successful reproduction, as only hibernated females produced eggs and only hibernated males successfully fertilized eggs. Although hibernation also resulted in a reduced body condition, the reduction appeared to be minimal with no associated mortality. The importance of hibernation for reproduction is not surprising, since it is a major component of the conditions that R. muscosa experiences in the wild. Other amphibian conservation breeding programs can also benefit from a scientific approach that tests the effect of natural ecological conditions on reproduction. This will ensure that captive colonies maximize their role in providing genetic reservoirs for assurance and reintroduction efforts.

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