Frogs during the flood: differential behaviours of two amphibian species in a dryland floodplain wetland
Flow regimes structure biotic processes and communities of floodplain wetlands. Most current understanding of the influence of the flood pulse on vertebrates is based on knowledge of relationships between flow regimes and fish and bird populations. Its influence on amphibian populations is poorly known, and possibly difficult to disentangle due to the strong influence of weather on amphibian movement and breeding. We predicted that the behaviour of two functionally different amphibian species would vary due to different physiological constraints and life histories driving habitat use and activity periods. We radio-tracked 52 frogs, 27 barking marsh frogs (Limnodynastes fletcheri, Limnodynastidae) and 25 green tree frogs (Litoria caerulea, Hylidae), to investigate the influence of weather and flooding on habitat use, size of activity area and nightly movement. Activity area sizes and nightly distances of the species were highly variable. Limnodynastes fletcheri had a greater area of activity during floods (mean area: 5237 ± 2556 (SE) m2 cf. 639 ± 247 m2 post flood) while the tree frog had a greater area after flooding (207 ± 68 m2 cf. 1946 ± 530 m2). Limnodynastes fletcheri movement was little influenced by weather or inundation, with distances slightly restricted by increasing wind speed. However, use of floodplain habitat and coincidental breeding behaviour indicated responsiveness by L. fletcheri to flooding. Litoria caerulea moved further with increasing rainfall and nightly temperatures, seldom used flooded areas and there was no evidence of breeding. Although the flood pulse is the dominant structuring force on the floodplain, its influence varies on amphibian species. Consequently for conservation, L. fletcheri populations may be negatively affected by river regulatory activities, but would respond to environmental flow management, whereas L. caerulea appears unlikely to be affected by river regulation, though the confounding effects of rain and preferred habitat inundation needs exploring.