Seasonal changes in diet and chemical defense in the Climbing Mantella frog (Mantella laevigata)

Nora A. Moskowitz, Alexandre B. Roland, Eva K. Fischer, Ndimbintsoa Ranaivorazo, Charles Vidoudez, Marianne T. Aguilar, Sophia M. Caldera, Jacqueline Chea, Miruna G. Cristus, Jett P. Crowdis, Bluyé DeMessie, Caroline R. DesJardins-Park, Audrey H. Effenberger, Felipe Flores, Michael Giles, Emma Y. He, Nike S. Izmaylov, Chang Won C. Lee, Nicholas A. Pagel, Krystal K. PhuLeah U. Rosen, Danielle A. Seda, Yong Shen, Santiago Vargas, Andrew W. Murray, Eden Abebe, Sunia A. Trauger, David A. Donoso, Miguel Vences, Lauren A. O’Connell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Poison frogs acquire chemical defenses from the environment for protection against potential predators. These defensive chemicals are lipophilic alkaloids that are sequestered by poison frogs from dietary arthropods and stored in skin glands. Despite decades of research focusing on identifying poison frog alkaloids, we know relatively little about how environmental variation and subsequent arthropod availability impacts alkaloid loads in poison frogs. We investigated how seasonal environmental variation influences poison frog chemical profiles through changes in the diet of the Climbing Mantella (Mantella laevigata). We collected M. laevigata females on the Nosy Mangabe island reserve in Madagascar during the wet and dry seasons and tested the hypothesis that seasonal differences in rainfall is associated with changes in diet composition and skin alkaloid profiles of M. laevigata. The arthropod diet of each frog was characterized into five groups (i.e. ants, termites, mites, insect larvae, or ‘other’) using visual identification and cytochrome oxidase 1 DNA barcoding. We found that frog diet differed between the wet and dry seasons, where frogs had a more diverse diet in the wet season and consumed a higher percentage of ants in the dry season. To determine if seasonality was associated with variation in frog defensive chemical composition, we used gas chromatography / mass spectrometry to quantify alkaloids from individual skin samples. Although the assortment of identified alkaloids was similar across seasons, we detected significant differences in the abundance of certain alkaloids, which we hypothesize reflects seasonal variation in the diet of M. laevigata. We suggest that these variations could originate from seasonal changes in either arthropod leaf litter composition or changes in frog behavioral patterns. Although additional studies are needed to understand the consequences of long-term environmental shifts, this work suggests that alkaloid profiles are relatively robust against short-term environmental perturbations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0207940
JournalPloS one
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2018
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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