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Grey Treefrogs Reveal New Clues about Climate Change

First Posted: Feb 03, 2016 10:35 AM EST

Grey treefrogs may reveal new clues about climate change. Scientists have found that increasing temperatures and climate variability may have an effect on the sounds produced by these frogs, making them canaries in the coal mine.

Grey treefrogs are a common species found in North America and throughout the eastern two-thirds of the country, including Missouri. They have sticky toe pads that help them cling to windows, and also a mating call that distinguishes them on warm, summer evenings.

"In a way, the decline of the polar bear has become the face of climate change; yet grey tree frogs located in our own backyards might give us better clues about changes in the environment," said Sarah C. Humfeld, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Our team wanted to take a look at how rising temperatures might affect how female gray tree frogs interpret the signals given off by males and whether or not that might interrupt their breeding habits."

During the mating season, male treefrogs produce calls to attract potential mates. Females interpret various characteristics of the trilled call to help them locate a high-quality male of the correct species. The pitch and rate of trilling can actually be temperature-dependent, often corresponding to rising or falling temperatures experienced by these animals.

"We found that temperature didn't have a great effect on females and their interpretation of the mating call; however, these are still important findings," said Humfeld. "Amphibians are the veritable 'canary in the coal' mine, an indicator species that can send signals to scientists who study the effects of rising global temperatures. Knowing more about how their mating habits are affected by climate change can help us study the ways rising temperatures are affecting biodiversity. Findings from our study help add to the knowledge base needed to study thermal tolerance levels for various species and the steps conservation managers can take to maintain various ecological systems."

The findings are published in the journal Herptological Conservation and Biology.

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