The recent discovery of a cryptic species of leopard frog in the Northeast means that nine states (CT, DE, MA, MD, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VA) may have to redefine their faunal checklists and/or lists of Species of Greatest Conservation Need. The new leopard frog appears to be of conservation concern in at least portions of its range, and until the states are able to address some basic information gaps, conservation efforts in the Northeast will be challenged with uncertain taxonomic statuses, potentially flawed bases for species and/or site prioritizations, and misappropriations of limited resources for strategic inventory, research, and/or management action. Through a multi-agency collaborative effort, we will 1) Determine conclusively which leopard frog species occur presently and occurred historically in the nine states; 2) Refine the northeastern distribution of the new species relative to the two other leopard frogs; 3) Contrast multi-level habitat associations among the three species; and 4) Refine the separation of species via field characters (calls, morphology) to facilitate future inventory, monitoring, and status assessments of the new species without reliance on genetic testing. Extensive bioacoustic surveys in 2014 will define the ranges of each species and identify sites for an intensive survey effort of occupied sites in 2014-2015 to characterize habitat associations, obtain tissue for genetic testing, and examine suspected rangewide morphological differences. The proposed study will provide northeastern states with a better capacity to implement sound, well-informed conservation strategies for native amphibians and their habitats.
Biological inventories aimed at enumerating a region’s species, combined with detailed natural history observation, can reveal evidence of cryptic species: overlooked species incorrectly grouped under a single taxonomic name. The identification of cryptic species raises fundamental questions about each species’ distribution, identification, and conservation status. Leopard frogs in the northeastern United States have faced this situation since the recent discovery of Rana (= Lithobates) kauffeldi, the Atlantic Coast leopard frog, as distinct from R. sphenocephala (southern leopard frog) and R. pipiens (northern leopard frog). Following on this discovery, the objectives of our study were to 1) Determine conclusively which leopard frog species occur presently and occurred historically in ten eastern U.S. states; 2) Refine the range of R. kauffeldi relative to the two other leopard frog species; 3) Map new, potentially reduced, ranges for the two congeners; 4) Assess the species’ conservation status, particularly in areas where R. kauffeldi is already known to be of concern; 5) Contrast multi-level habitat associations among the three species; and 6) Improve upon the separation of species using acoustic and morphological field characters to facilitate future inventory, monitoring, and status assessments of the new species.