Population Genetics of Wood Frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus) in an Altered Forested Ridgetop Wetland Ecosystem in Appalachia

Author ORCID Identifier

Stephen C. Richter ORCID iD iconhttps://orcid.org/0000-0001-6646-2484


Biological Sciences

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Natural wetlands are important for maintaining regional amphibian biodiversity and their loss and degradation are a major cause of amphibian population declines. Population genetic data can be useful to conservation efforts by providing information on genetic variation, effective population size, and spatiotemporal patterns of gene flow. On the Cumberland Plateau in Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky, USA, ridgetops contain natural and constructed wetlands interspersed on the landscape. Our study objective was to determine population genetic diversity and structure of Wood Frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus) across this altered ecosystem and to evaluate what local and landscape factors influence patterns of genetic variation. We analyzed genetic data for nine microsatellite DNA loci from 20-26 egg clutches at five randomly selected natural wetlands across a 12.2-km landscape. Overall, we found considerable variability in genetic profiles of populations: observed heterozygosity = 0.581-0.719, expected heterozygosity = 0.736-0.780, FIS = 0.069-0.252, and allelic richness = 8.83-11.95. Three populations exhibited a signature of a population bottleneck. There was support for three genetic clusters, and overall F ST was 0.054 ± 0.022 standard error. Geographic distance significantly correlated to genetic distance (P < 0.05) and explained 42% of the variation in genetic distance among populations. Our study provides insight into current status and conservation needs of Wood Frogs in ridgetop wetland systems. Despite the abundance of constructed wetlands and potential for population sinks, genetic diversity is still relatively high, although this might be due to the recency of constructed wetlands on the landscape and the inherent lag time of genetic response.

Journal Title

Herpetological Conservation and Biology