Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Wyoming
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Barrile, G. M., Walters, A. W., and Chalfoun, A. D. 2022. Stage-specific environmental correlates of reproductive success in Boreal Toads (Anaxyrus boreas boreas). Journal of Herpetology, 56(1), 34–44.


Compensatory recruitment can facilitate the persistence of populations experiencing high adult mortality. Because early life-stages of many taxa, including amphibians, are difficult to mark and recapture, sources of variation in survival at these stages often are unknown, which creates barriers to improving in situ recruitment rates. We leveraged count data and open N-mixture models to examine the environmental factors associated with the hatching of egg clutches, tadpole survival, and probability of metamorphosis in Boreal Toads (Anaxyrus boreas boreas) that inhabit pastures leased for cattle grazing in western Wyoming, USA. We conducted weekly surveys and measured a suite of environmental variables at 20 breeding ponds during May–September 2018. The hatching of egg clutches was most strongly related to pond surface area, as clutches often desiccated at smaller ponds. Weekly tadpole survival was lowest in ponds with a high abundance of aquatic predators. Predation did not preclude metamorphosis, however, which was more strongly associated with higher dissolved oxygen and vegetation cover. Cattle grazing reduced vegetation cover in and around breeding ponds, which resulted in lower levels of dissolved oxygen. Grazing-induced habitat changes therefore likely negatively influenced tadpole metamorphosis both via indirect effects on dissolved oxygen, and direct effects on vegetation cover, which also serves as feeding sites and escape cover from predators and reduces exposure to UV radiation. We demonstrate that the success of three critical phases in early life-stage development (egg hatching, tadpole survival, metamorphosis) was associated with different environmental factors. The inclusion of stage-specific responses in demographic analyses is therefore critical for a thorough understanding of what limits populations.