The disappearing northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens): conservation genetics and implications for remnant populations in western Nevada


  • Otis Bay Ecological Consultants provided financial support for sample collection.


Mary M. Peacock, Department of Biology/MS314, 1664 N. Virginia Street, University of Nevada, Reno, NV 89557. Tel: +(775) 784-1958; Fax: +(775) 784-1302; E-mail:


Global amphibian declines suggest a major shift in the amount and quality of habitat for these sensitive taxa. Many species that were once widespread are now experiencing declines either in part of or across their historic range. The northern leopard frog (Rana [Lithobates] pipiens] has undergone significant declines particularly in the western United States and Canada. Leopard frog population losses in Nevada are largely due to habitat fragmentation and the introduction of nonnative fish, amphibian, and plant species. Only two populations remain in the Truckee and Carson River watersheds of western Nevada which represents the western boundary of this species range. We used sequence data for an 812 base pair fragment of the mitochondrial NADH dehydrogenase 1 (ND1) gene to support a native origin for western Nevada populations. All frogs had a single haplotype (W07) from the distinct western North America ND1 haplotype clade. Data from seven polymorphic microsatellite loci show that Truckee and Carson River populations are highly differentiated from each other and from leopard frogs collected from eastern Nevada sites. Lack of gene flow among and distinct color morphs among the western Nevada populations likely predates the current geographical isolation. Comparisons with other peripheral L. pipiens populations show western Nevada populations have similar levels of gene diversity despite their contemporary isolation (HE 0.411, 0.482). Restoration of leopard frog populations in these watersheds will be challenging given well-entrenched nonnative bullfrog populations and major changes to the riparian zone over the past century. Declines of once common amphibian species has become a major conservation concern. Contemporary isolation of populations on a species range periphery such as the leopard frog populations in the Truckee and Carson rivers further exacerbate extirpation risk as these populations are likely to have fewer genetic resources to adaptively respond to rapidly changing biotic and abiotic environments.