Patterns of synchrony in natterjack toad breeding activity and reproductive success at local and regional scales


M. Emmerson, Environmental Research Inst., Univ. College Cork, Lee Road, Cork, Ireland. E-mail:


Empirical studies of the spatiotemporal dynamics of populations are required to better understand natural fluctuations in abundance and reproductive success, and to better target conservation and monitoring programmes. In particular, spatial synchrony in amphibian populations remains little studied. We used data from a comprehensive three year study of natterjack toad Bufo calamita populations breeding at 36 ponds to assess whether there was spatial synchrony in the toad breeding activity (start and length of breeding season, total number of egg strings) and reproductive success (premetamorphic survival and production of metamorphs). We defined a novel approach to assess the importance of short-term synchrony at both local and regional scales. The approach employs similarity indices and quantifies the interaction between the temporal and spatial components of populations using mixed effects models. There was no synchrony in the toad breeding activity and reproductive success at the local scale, suggesting that populations function as individual clusters independent of each other. Regional synchrony was apparent in the commencement and duration of the breeding season and in the number of egg strings laid (indicative of female population size). Regional synchrony in both rainfall and temperature are likely to explain the patterns observed (e.g. Moran effect). There was no evidence supporting regional synchrony in reproductive success, most likely due to spatial variability in the environmental conditions at the breeding ponds, and to differences in local population fitness (e.g. fecundity). The small scale asynchronous dynamics and regional synchronous dynamics in the number of breeding females indicate that it is best to monitor several populations within a subset of regions. Importantly, variations in the toad breeding activity and reproductive success are not synchronous, and it is thus important to consider them both when assessing the conservation status of pond-breeding amphibians.