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Non-Native Fish Introductions and the Decline of the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog from within Protected Areas

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One of the most puzzling aspects of the worldwide decline of amphibians is their disappearance from within protected areas. Because these areas are ostensibly undisturbed, habitat alterations are generally perceived as unlikely causes. The introduction of non-native fishes into protected areas, however, is a common practice throughout the world and may exert an important influence on amphibian distributions. We quantified the role of introduced fishes (several species of trout) in the decline of the mountain yellow-legged frog (  Rana muscosa) in California's Sierra Nevada through surveys openface> 1700 sites in two adjacent and historically fishless protected areas that differed primarily in the distribution of introduced fish. Negative effects of fishes on the distribution of frogs were evident at three spatial scales. At the landscape scale, comparisons between the two protected areas indicated that fish distribution was strongly negatively correlated with the distribution of frogs. At the watershed scale, the percentage of total water-body surface area occupied by fishes was a highly significant predictor of the percentage of total water-body surface area occupied by frogs. At the scale of individual water bodies, frogs were three times more likely to be found and six times more abundant in fishless than in fish-containing waterbodies, after habitat effects were accounted for. The strong effect of introduced fishes on mountain yellow-legged frogs appears to result from the unique life history of this amphibian which frequently restricts larvae to deeper water bodies, the same habitats into which fishes have most frequently been introduced. Because fish populations in at least some Sierra Nevada lakes can be removed with minimal effort, our results suggest that the decline of the mountain yellow-legged frog might be relatively easy to reverse.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory , University of California, Star Route 1, Box 198, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546, U.S.A., 2: U.S. Department of Agriculture Pacific Southwest Research Station , Box 245, Berkeley, CA 94701, U.S.A.

Publication date: April 1, 2000

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