Climatic variation and the distribution of an amphibian polyploid complex


Clint Otto, Towson University, Department of Biological Sciences, 8000 York Road, Towson, MD 21215, USA. Fax: +1 410 704 2405. E-mail:


  • 1The establishment of polyploid populations involves the persistence and growth of the polyploid in the presence of the progenitor species. Although there have been a number of animal polyploid species documented, relatively few inquiries have been made into the large-scale mechanisms of polyploid establishment in animal groups. Herein we investigate the influence of regional climatic conditions on the distributional patterns of a diploid–tetraploid species pair of gray treefrogs, Hyla chrysoscelis and H. versicolor (Anura: Hylidae) in the mid-Atlantic region of eastern North America.
  • 2Calling surveys at breeding sites were used to document the distribution of each species. Twelve climatic models and one elevation model were generated to predict climatic and elevation values for gray treefrog breeding sites. A canonical analysis of discriminants was used to describe relationships between climatic variables, elevation and the distribution of H. chrysoscelis and H. versicolor.
  • 3There was a strong correlation between several climatic variables, elevation and the distribution of the gray treefrog complex. Specifically, the tetraploid species almost exclusively occupied areas of higher elevation, where climatic conditions were relatively severe (colder, drier, greater annual variation). In contrast, the diploid species was restricted to lower elevations, where climatic conditions were warmer, wetter and exhibited less annual variation.
  • 4Clusters of syntopic sites were associated with areas of high variation in annual temperature and precipitation during the breeding season.
  • 5Our data suggest that large-scale climatic conditions have played a role in the establishment of the polyploid H. versicolor in at least some portions of its range. The occurrence of the polyploid and absence of the progenitor in colder, drier and more varied environments suggests the polyploid may posses a tolerance of severe environmental conditions that is not possessed by the diploid progenitor.
  • 6Our findings support the hypothesis that increased tolerance to severe environmental conditions is a plausible mechanism of polyploid establishment.