Water clarity, maternal behavior, and physiology combine to eliminate UV radiation risk to amphibians in a montane landscape

Earth to Ocean Research Group, Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Impact Factor: 9.81). 05/2010; 107(21):9701-6. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0912970107
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Increasing UV-B radiation (UV-B; 290-320 nm) due to stratospheric ozone depletion has been a leading explanation for the decline in amphibians for nearly 2 decades. Yet, the likelihood that UV-B can influence amphibians at the large spatial scales relevant to population declines has not yet been evaluated. A key limitation has been in relating results from individual sites to the effect of UV-B for populations distributed across heterogeneous landscapes. We measured critical embryonic exposures to UV-B for two species of montane amphibians with contrasting physiological sensitivities, long-toed salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum) and Cascades frog (Rana cascadae), at field sites spanning a gradient of UV-B attenuation in water. We then used these experimental results to estimate the proportion of embryos exposed to harmful UV-B across a large number of breeding sites. By combining surveys of the incubation timing, incident UV-B, optical transparency of water, and oviposition depth and light exposure of embryos at each site, we present a comprehensive assessment of the risk posed by UV-B for montane amphibians of the Pacific Northwest. We found that only 1.1% of A. macrodactylum and no R. cascadae embryos across a landscape of breeding sites are exposed to UV-B exceeding lethal levels. These results emphasize that accurately estimating the risk posed by environmental stressors requires placing experimental results in a broader ecological context that accounts for the heterogeneity experienced by populations distributed across natural landscapes.

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