Land-use alters the form of larval density dependence to increase extinction risk in a grassland amphibian

C. S. Kross, J. D. Willson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An understanding of interactions between anthropogenic stressors and intrinsic population drivers is needed to fully understand wildlife population declines. Density dependence is a key aspect of population regulation for many species, especially for species that have high reproductive potential, such as amphibians. However, patterns of density dependence have been characterized for only a few species and little work has evaluated how density-dependent interactions may be altered by anthropogenic stressors. We combined the results of a mesocosm experiment with demographic population modeling to investigate how the conversion of native prairie to agricultural grasslands dominated by Tall Fescue grass (Lolium arundinacea) affected larval density dependence and adult population size of an imperiled amphibian, Lithobates areolatus (Crawfish Frog). Overall, density dependence was overcompensatory, suggesting that L. areolatus exhibits scramble competition as larvae. Both vegetation treatments had low survival at high densities, but more individuals survived to metamorphosis at moderate densities in Fescue treatments compared to Prairie treatments. We evaluated the implications of our experimental results using a stochastic density-dependent matrix population model to project long-term population dynamics. Simulated populations breeding in Fescue-dominated wetlands had a more variable population size and up to 400% higher probability of quasi-extinction within 200 years, compared to populations breeding in ponds with prairie vegetation. Without varying density in experimental treatments and using mathematical models to project emergent population dynamics, our mesocosm experiment results would have suggested a slightly positive effect of Fescue grass on amphibian development and survival. Vegetation changes surrounding breeding wetlands might play an important role in the decline of amphibian populations persisting in low-intensity agricultural areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)771-781
Number of pages11
JournalAnimal Conservation
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Lithobates areolatus
  • agriculture
  • matrix models
  • population dynamics
  • prairie
  • wetland

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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