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Tests of phenotypic and genetic concordance and their application to the conservation of Panamanian golden frogs (Anura, Bufonidae)

Authors

  • CORINNE L. RICHARDS,

    1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan, Museum of Zoology, 1109 Geddes Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1079, USA
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  • L. LACEY KNOWLES

    1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan, Museum of Zoology, 1109 Geddes Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1079, USA
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Corinne L. Richards, Fax: 734-763-4080; E-mail: clrichar@umich.edu

Abstract

Evolutionarily significant units (ESUs) differ in the extent to which they capture, or even consider, adaptive variation, and most such designations are based solely on neutral genetic differences that may not capture variation relevant to species’ adaptabilities to changing environmental conditions. While concordant patterns of divergence among data sets (i.e. neutral and potentially non-neutral characters) can strengthen ESU designations, determining whether such criteria are met for highly variable taxa is especially challenging. This study tests whether previously defined ESUs for endangered Panamanian golden frogs (Atelopus varius and Atelopus zeteki) exhibit concordant variation among multiple phenotypic traits and mitochondrial DNA sequences, and the extent to which such divergence corresponds to environmental differences. Multivariate analyses identify phenotypic and genetic differentiation consistent with proposed ESUs and support the status of A. varius and A. zeteki as separate species. Moreover, the significant association detected between ESU co-membership and genetic similarity, which remained strong after removing the effect of geographic distance, also indicates that genetic differences are not simply due to isolation by distance. Two phenotypic characters (body size and the extent of dorsal black patterning) that differ among ESUs also co-vary with environmental differences, suggesting that to the extent that these phenotypic differences are heritable, variation may be associated with adaptive divergence. Lastly, discriminant function analyses show that the frogs can be correctly assigned to ESUs based on simultaneous analysis of multiple characters. The study confirms the merit of conserving the previously proposed golden frog ESUs as well as demonstrates the utility and feasibility of combined analyses of ecological, morphological and genetic variation in evaluating ESUs, especially for highly variable taxa.

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