A major challenge facing wildlife biologists is understanding why some species go extinct while others persist in the same habitat. To address this question, we investigated whether tree canopy closure over ponds affects growth and survival of rare and common tadpoles within ponds and mediates competitive interactions among species. We conducted 2 experiments to test whether canopy closure and competition may have contributed to the decline of the endangered dusky gopher frog (Rana sevosa), but allowed the persistence of the southern leopard frog (R. sphenocephala). We explored the response of both species to canopy closure in single-species and mixed- (1:1) species treatments of identical total tadpole density. An experiment using aquatic enclosures in temporary ponds showed that canopy closure reduced tadpole growth approximately 20% for both species. Survival of dusky gopher frog tadpoles was higher in mixed-species enclosures than in single-species enclosures. In a complementary experiment using artificial ponds, dusky gopher frogs had lower survival to metamorphosis, reduced size at metamorphosis, and produced a lower total biomass of metamorphosed juveniles in shaded ponds. Southern leopard frogs exhibited reduced body size at metamorphosis only when shaded. These studies suggest that pond canopy closure, not larval competition, may be contributing to the decline of the dusky gopher frog. The different responses to canopy closure suggest a potential mechanism for the loss of dusky gopher frogs and the persistence of southern leopard frogs. Removal of trees from historically open-canopy ponds may help facilitate the recovery of dusky gopher frogs and benefit similar species.
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Vol. 71 • No. 6