Changes in Physiology and Microbial Diversity in Larval Ornate Chorus Frogs are Associated with Habitat Quality
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Environmental change associated with anthropogenic disturbance can lower habitat quality, especially for sensitive species such as many amphibians. Variation in environmental quality may affect an organism's physiological health and, ultimately, survival and fitness. Using multiple health measures can aid in identifying populations at increased risk of declines. Our objective was to measure environmental variables at multiple spatial scales and their effect on three indicators of health in ornate chorus frog ( Pseudacris ornata ) tadpoles to identify potential correlates of population declines. To accomplish this, we measured a glucocorticoid hormone (corticosterone; CORT) profile associated with the stress response, as well as the skin mucosal immune function (combined function of skin secretions and skin bacterial community) and bacterial communities of tadpoles from multiple ponds. We found that water quality characteristics associated with environmental variation, including higher water temperature, conductivity and total dissolved solids, as well as percent developed land nearby, were associated with elevated CORT release rates. However, mucosal immune function, although highly variable, was not significantly associated with water quality or environmental factors. Finally, we examined skin bacterial diversity as it aids in immunity and is affected by environmental variation. We found that skin bacterial diversity differed between ponds and was affected by land cover type, canopy cover and pond proximity. Our results indicate that both local water quality and land cover characteristics are important determinants of population health for ornate chorus frogs. Moreover, using these proactive measures of health over time may aid in early identification of at-risk populations that could prevent further declines and aid in management decisions.