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Lithobates capito

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
ANIMALIA CHORDATA AMPHIBIA ANURA RANIDAE

Scientific Name: Lithobates capito
Species Authority: (LeConte, 1855)
Common Name(s):
English Gopher Frog
Synonym(s):
Rana capito LeConte, 1855
Taxonomic Notes: This species was removed from the synonymy of Lithobates areolatus by Case (1978) and Young and Crother (2001).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Near Threatened ver 3.1
Year Published: 2004
Date Assessed: 2004-04-30
Assessor(s): Geoffrey Hammerson, John Jensen
Reviewer(s): Global Amphibian Assessment Coordinating Team (Simon Stuart, Janice Chanson, Neil Cox and Bruce Young)
Justification:
Listed as Near Threatened because this species is probably in significant decline (but probably at a rate of less than 30% over ten years) because of widespread habitat loss through much of its range, thus making the species close to qualifying for Vulnerable.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: This species is found in the USA from the Coastal Plain from the southern half of North Carolina (Beaufort County) to southern Florida (Collier County on the west coast, Broward County on the east coast), west to the Tombigbee River of Alabama. There are isolated populations in central Alabama (with a historical record from Shelby County) and central Tennessee (Atlig and Lohoefener 1983; Bailey 1991; Conant and Collins 1991; Godley 1992; Redmond and Scott 1996; Miller and Campbell 1996). Most of its range is contained within the range of the gopher tortoise Gopherus polyphemus (Conant and Collins 1991).
Countries:
Native:
United States
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: In Alabama, this frog occurs at six breeding sites (M.A. Bailey pers. comm.). In Florida, it is extant at 79 sites east of the Apalachicola River (R. Franz unpubl.) and it breeds in at least 25 sites west of the Apalachicola River (J.G. Palis pers. comm.). It is known from two specimens in Tennessee (Redmond and Scott 1996; M.A. Bailey pers. comm.), and it is known to occur at seven sites at least in Georgia, including Fort Benning (where 60-110 breeding adults were recorded in a two acre pond; Andrews pers. comm.), Fort Stewart (18 breeding sites recorded; D.J. Stevenson pers. comm.), McIntosh County, Baker County (at least five sites), Charlton County (C.W. Seyle unpubl.), Taylor County (three breeding sites), and Marion County. It is known from two sites (Savannah River Ecology Lab and Santee Coastal Reserve) in South Carolina. In North Carolina, it breeds at 11 sites (A.L. Braswell unpubl.). Though few data are available concerning changes in the species’ population status, much information exists on the reduction of its habitat and breeding sites. The longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) community, the ecosystem primarily inhabited by this species, has been reduced to less than 5% of its historical range (Frost 1993; Outcalt and Sheffield 1996). Bailey (1994) reported that eight of 14 known breeding sites in Alabama are considered historic and of the six extant ponds, only three supported substantial populations. However, since that study, one historic site has been reconfirmed as extant, two additional breeding ponds have been discovered, and one previously known breeding site has been extirpated due to the introduction of predatory fish (M.A. Bailey pers. comm.; J.B. Jensen pers. comm.). Although a few new North Carolina sites have been documented in recent years (Beane and Hoffman 1995, 1997), Braswell (1993) found only 11 of 32 previously known breeding sites to be active in North Carolina. Twelve sites are known from South Carolina, though only four remain extant (S.H. Bennett pers. comm.). Of 23 historic breeding sites in Georgia investigated by Seyle (1994) 12 were judged suitable, eight were considered degraded but marginally suitable, and three were judged unsuitable. Only one site was found to contain the frogs during two extensive surveys of Georgia's coastal plain in late winter and early spring of 1995. However, heavy rains during the autumn of the previous year might have contributed to early breeding, and therefore low detectability during the survey period (Moulis 1995a,b). Extensive surveys are lacking for Florida. The total population size of this species is not known but it is apparently declining in many areas.
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Its primary habitat is native xeric upland habitats, particularly longleaf pine-turkey oak sand hill associations; also xeric to mesic longleaf pine flat woods, sand pine scrub, xeric oak hammocks, and ruderal successional stages of these habitats. It is absent from most coastal islands and dunes (Godley 1992). Burrows of the gopher tortoise or rodents are used for shelter (Gentry and Smith 1968; Lee 1968; Franz 1986), and it also hides under logs and under or in stumps (Wright and Wright 1949). Breeding occurs in ephemeral to semi-permanent graminoid-dominated wetlands that lack large predatory fish (Bailey 1991; Moler and Franz 1987; J.G. Palis unpubl.). This species does not adapt well to habitat degradation or the introduction of predators to its breeding habitat.
Systems: Terrestrial; Freshwater

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Threats to this species are many and include loss of longleaf pine habitat through maximum-yield timber management (for example, through establishment of pine monocultures) and decreased frequency of fire; introduction of predatory fish into breeding ponds; road construction near breeding sites; and declining populations of gopher tortoises whose burrows are used extensively by gopher frogs (Bailey 1991; Godley 1992). Mechanical site preparation techniques (such as roller chopping) destroy burrow openings, which may trap inhabitants. Routine pine straw harvest and associated removal of herbaceous vegetation also degrades the habitat quality (A.L. Braswell pers. comm.). Introduction of predatory game fishes (Lepomis spp. and Micropterus spp.) is detrimental as these species feed upon gopher frog tadpoles and possibly eggs. In some instances, introduction of mosquito fish (Gambusia spp.) can also be detrimental to gopher frogs and other larval amphibians (A.L. Braswell pers. comm.). Breeding sites are often degraded by off-road recreational vehicle (ORV) use or by sand roads that pass through or adjacent to the ponds as vehicular traffic disrupts pond floor micro-topography and eliminates herbaceous vegetation (J.G. Palis pers. comm.). More specifically, large tires of ORVs may break the organic hardpan that lies below the pond floor. This hardpan prevents water from draining into the sand below the wetland (LaClaire and Franz 1991), so breaking the hardpan could result in a shorter hydroperiod and thus make some wetlands unsuitable for gopher frog reproduction. Loss of herbaceous vegetation from ORV use could also discourage gopher frog reproduction since egg masses are attached to stems of herbaceous vegetation (Bailey 1990; J.G. Palis pers. comm.). Erosion of unpaved roads lying adjacent to breeding sites may result in sedimentation into the ponds. Introduction of sediment is exacerbated by the placement of wing ditches that divert water from roads into ponds. Heavy grazing by cattle in summer in dried pond basins might reduce or eliminate frog oviposition sites and/or alter pond nutrient cycling.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: A number of protected areas occur on various public lands throughout the species' range. The most abundant populations are on federal lands, including Conecuh National Forest (Alabama), Eglin Air Force Base (Florida), and Fort Benning (Georgia). These areas receive at least some protection relevant to the needs of this frog. Elsewhere, existing regulatory mechanisms probably are insufficient for adequate protection of breeding and non-breeding habitat. It is listed as a species of special concern in Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina, and is protected in Alabama. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is currently evaluating the range-wide status of this frog to determine if it warrants federal recommendation as a threatened species (L.V. LaClaire pers. comm.).

Bibliography [top]

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Bailey, M.A. 1990. Movement of the dusky gopher frog (Rana areolata sevosa) at a temporary pond in the lower coastal plain of Alabama. In: Dodd Jr, C.K., Ashton Jr, R.E., Franz, R. and Ester, E. (eds), Proceedings of the Eighth Annual Meeting of the Gopher Tortoise Council, pp. 27-43. Florida Museum of Natual History, Gainesville, Florida.

Bailey, M.A. 1991. The dusky gopher frog in Alabama. Journal of the Alabama Academy of Science: 28-34.

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Franz, R. 1986. The Florida gopher frog and Florida pine snake as burrow associates of the gopher tortoise in northern Florida. In: Jackson, D.R. and Bryant, R.J. (eds), The Gopher Tortoise and its Community, pp. 16-20. Proceedings of the Fifth Annual Meeting of the Gopher Tortoise Council. Florida State Museum., Gainesville, Florida.

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Jensen. J.B., Bailey, M.A., Blankenship, E.L. and Camp, C.D. 2003. The relationship between breeding by the gopher frog, Rana capito (Amphibia: Ranidae) and rainfall. American Midland Naturalist: 185-190.

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LaClaire, L.V. 1995. Vegetation of selected upland temporary ponds in north and north-central Florida. Bulletin of the Florida Museum of Natural History: 69-96.

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Means, D.B. 1986. Threatened: dusky gopher frog. In: Mount, R.H. (ed.), Vertebrate Animals of Alabama in Need of Special Attention, pp. 30-31. Alabama Agricul. Exp. Sta. Auburn University, Auburn, AL.

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Citation: Geoffrey Hammerson, John Jensen 2004. Lithobates capito. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 31 July 2014.
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