Frogs and toads (anurans) are sensitive to a variety of anthropogenic stressors and are widely suggested as indicators of ecological condition. We surveyed 220 coastal wetlands along the U.S. shores of the Laurentian Great Lakes and quantified relationships between presence of anuran species and degree of anthropogenic disturbance. Results were used to derive explicit, functional relationships between environmental condition and anuran occurrences. These functions were subsequently used to calculate a multi-species indicator of ecological condition at other (novel) wetlands. Of 14 anuran species observed, spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) exhibited the strongest and most consistent relationship with environmental condition across the entire study area. Other species exhibited significant relationships with the environmental gradient, but the direction of association varied geographically or the overall species abundance was very low (e.g., mink frog, Rana septentrionalis). Even if applied to separate ecological provinces (Laurentian Mixed Forest or Eastern Deciduous Forest), multi-species estimates of wetland condition based on anurans are not much better indicators of environmental condition based on human disturbance than are indices based solely on occurrence of spring peeper. Nevertheless, indicators grounded in explicit relationships with environmental stress are superior to traditional measures (e.g., species richness) that combine species with different responses to the stress gradient. At least one anuran species (spring peeper) can contribute meaningfully to the assessment of ecological condition in Great Lakes coastal wetlands; its value as an indicator will be improved if it can be combined with information from other wetland species such as birds, fishes, and vascular plants.
Journal of Great Lakes Research
Vol. 33 • No. sp3
Vol. 33 • No. sp3