Experimental evaluation of how biological invasions and climate change interact to alter the vertical assembly of an amphibian community

In situ image of non-native Cuban treefrog (Osteopilus septentrionalis) preying on a native green treefrog (Hyla cinerea).


While biotic–abiotic interactions are increasingly documented in nature, a process-based understanding of how such interactions influence community assembly is lacking in the ecological literature. Perhaps the most emblematic and pervasive example of such interactions is the synergistic threat to biodiversity posed by climate change and invasive species. Invasive species often out-compete or prey on native species. Despite this long-standing and widespread issue, little is known about how abiotic conditions, such as climate change, will influence the frequency and severity of negative biotic interactions that threaten the persistence of native fauna. Treefrogs are a globally diverse group of amphibians that climb to complete life-cycle processes, such as foraging and reproduction, as well as to evade predators and competitors, resulting in frog communities that are vertically partitioned. Furthermore, treefrogs adjust their vertical position to maintain optimal body temperature and hydration in response to environmental change. Here, utilizing this model group, we designed a novel experiment to determine how extrinsic abiotic and biotic factors (changes to water availability and an introduced predator, respectively) interact with intrinsic biological traits, such as individual physiology and behaviour, to influence treefrogs’ vertical niche. Our study found that treefrogs adjusted their vertical niche through displacement behaviours in accordance with abiotic resources. However, biotic interactions resulted in native treefrogs distancing themselves from abiotic resources to avoid the non-native species. Importantly, under altered abiotic conditions, both native species avoided the non-native species 33%–70% more than they avoided their native counterpart. Additionally, exposure to the non-native species resulted in native species altering their tree climbing behaviours by 56%-78% and becoming more vertically dynamic to avoid the non-native antagonist.Our experiment determined that vertical niche selection and community interactions were most accurately represented by a biotic–abiotic interaction model, rather than a model that considers these factors to operate in an isolated (singular) or even additive manner. Our study provides evidence that native species may be resilient to interacting disturbances via physiological adaptations to local climate and plasticity in space-use behaviours that mediate the impact of the introduced predator.

In Journal of Animal Ecology

Press coverage: Florida Today https://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/environment/2023/04/03/cuban-tree-frog-hops-to-new-heights-of-ecological-destruction-in-florida/70064687007/

Nature Climate Change - Research Highlight https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-023-01654-z.epdf?sharing_token=3XnTm99a17DVcWMhv13iKNRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0MMd4D4RpznrkeWRsgunYu7dzCGDugmPYuA8lqoIfQTHmtQ-tp_uQ2CJKXMzH4cKcJkMgfEVbdniiX4uXaKrAHCZLPQwjVg5hZKpGbAUwr8-fFSRsRcdJO9tuJhYTvvjjw%3D

Southeastern Climate Adaptation Climate Center https://secasc.ncsu.edu/2023/03/13/se-casc-researchers-show-how-climate-change-and-invasive-species-threaten-florida-treefrogs/