Thermal and hydric implications of diurnal activity by a small tropical frog during the dry season



Amphibians are typically intolerant of high temperatures and dehydrating conditions, and small species are particularly susceptible to desiccation. The rockhole frog, Litoria meiriana (Hylidae), is diurnal and is often observed on rocks in the sun near streams in tropical Australia. These hot, desiccating conditions are avoided by most frog species. We measured the microclimate in the areas used by frogs and the activity, body temperatures and hydric state of free-ranging individuals of this small frog. We also used plaster models to further explore the dynamic nature of hydric state by combining estimates of water loss and water uptake with behavioural observations of activity and microhabitat selection. Both direct measures and estimates of dynamic hydric state indicated that free-ranging frogs generally maintained a hydric state above 95% of full hydration, but occasionally, particularly during the afternoon, frogs allowed their hydric state to fall as low as 85%. Body temperatures of frogs remained below the critical thermal maximum (CTmax) even when the frogs were in the sun, because this species has no cutaneous resistance to evaporative water loss and so they cool by evaporation. However, during the hotter part of the day, on dry sunny substrates, the hydric state of the frogs could fall to near lethal hydration states (approximately 70% of full hydration) within a short period (approximately 20 min). Thus, the threat of desiccation appears to be more limiting than the threat of overheating. These diurnal frogs rely on frequent bouts of rehydration to support their ability to venture onto hot, dry rocks during the day.