The mountain yellow-legged frog Rana muscosa sensu lato, once abundant in the Sierra Nevada of California and Nevada, and the disjunct Transverse Ranges of southern California, has declined precipitously throughout its range, even though most of its habitat is protected. The species is now extinct in Nevada and reduced to tiny remnants in southern California, where as a distinct population segment, it is classified as Endangered. Introduced predators (trout), air pollution and an infectious disease (chytridiomycosis) threaten remaining populations. A Bayesian analysis of 1901 base pairs of mitochondrial DNA confirms the presence of two deeply divergent clades that come into near contact in the Sierra Nevada. Morphological studies of museum specimens and analysis of acoustic data show that the two major mtDNA clades are readily differentiated phenotypically. Accordingly, we recognize two species, Rana sierrae, in the northern and central Sierra Nevada, and R. muscosa, in the southern Sierra Nevada and southern California. Existing data indicate no range overlap. These results have important implications for the conservation of these two species as they illuminate a profound mismatch between the current delineation of the distinct population segments (southern California vs. Sierra Nevada) and actual species boundaries. For example, our study finds that remnant populations of R. muscosa exist in both the southern Sierra Nevada and the mountains of southern California, which may broaden options for management. In addition, despite the fact that only the southern California populations are listed as Endangered, surveys conducted since 1995 at 225 historic (1899–1994) localities from museum collections show that 93.3% (n=146) of R. sierrae populations and 95.2% (n=79) of R. muscosa populations are extinct. Evidence presented here underscores the need for revision of protected population status to include both species throughout their ranges.
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