Despite their naked skins, amphibians are actually hardy animals that survive in a wide variety of climates, including the snowy mountains of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). Four native species reside in the region, ranging from the valley floors to above 9,000 feet in elevation: the tiger salamander, boreal chorus frog, boreal toad, and Columbia spotted frog. All inhabit terrestrial areas as adults, but depend on wetlands for breeding and egg deposition.
In the 1990s scientists began documenting a global decline in amphibians, and the Cooperative Amphibian Monitoring Project of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem was created to understand how these local species were affected. The project, led by NRCC Research Associate, Debra Patla, is designed to answer three main questions:
- Are native amphibian species declining?
- What are the possible underlying causes of any observed declines?
- What further directed research or management actions are warranted?
In order to address these questions, project members monitor potential breeding sites during the period when they may host wetland-dependent larvae (tadpoles), documenting the proportion of sites that are occupied by larvae of each species. This information is thought to provide the best handle for determining the occurrence and persistence of populations over time and across the region. Field crews annually conduct surveys for larvae in wetlands within a set of watershed units distributed across the two Parks. Data obtained by the surveys are then analyzed with statistical methods by Dr. William Gould of New Mexico State University in order to provide occupancy rates and trends, which help managers determine how best to conserve these important species.
The project began as a collaborative effort among the National Park Service’s Inventory and Monitoring Program, USGS’s Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative, and Idaho State University. In 2010, NRCC entered a cooperative agreement with National Park Service (NPS), and became a partner in the project. NRCC plays the key role of implementing field work according to the project protocols, accomplished by hiring a field coordinator and seasonal technicians with funds allocated by National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. Other supporters of the project include the Meg and Bert Raynes Wildlife Fund and donors like you.