Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Behavioural patterns of two native Leiopelma frogs and implications for their conservation

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posted on 2021-11-22, 15:53 authored by Ramírez, Patty

Amphibian populations are in general decline internationally. The current situation of amphibian populations highlights the urgent need for comprehensive information on species’ ecology to better assess conservation and management strategies. Movement behaviour and microhabitat selection give insights into how amphibians use the environment and interact with their surroundings, and are essential to establishing their sensitivity to the global decline phenomenon and identifying the critical habitat features essential for their success. New Zealand native frogs (Anura: Leiopelmatidae, Leiopelma, nine species) were formerly distributed throughout New Zealand, but habitat modification and predation by introduced mammalian predators have influenced recent (Holocene) extinctions and declines, reducing the fauna to four species with major range reductions. All extant Leiopelma are classified as threatened both nationally and internationally, creating an urgent need for species-specific behavioural research to support conservation management. I investigated activity, movement behaviour and microhabitat use of L. archeyi and L. pakeka for better evaluation of long term population viability and improved husbandry in captivity. L. archeyi is the smallest of the Leiopelma species and has been able to co-occur with introduced predators (e.g. rats), whereas L. pakeka is the largest, and the only natural population is confined to a predator-free island. I used a fine-scale tracking technique (i.e. non-toxic fluorescent powders) to track L. archeyi and L. pakeka movements throughout their activity periods when on the surface in their natural habitats, Whareorino Forest and Maud Island, respectively, to obtain detailed information on their activity patterns, movement behaviour, and microhabitat and retreat site use. I investigated in more detail L. pakeka retreat sites by measuring the dimensions of the retreat site entrances (width, height and diameter) as well as the activity inside those retreat sites. Lastly, I used long-term frog survey data to examine the indirect impacts (i.e. behavioural changes) ship rats (Rattus rattus) may have on L. archeyi by studying the microhabitat use and home range of this species in an area with and without rat control within Whareorino Forest. L. archeyi had a longer activity period than L. pakeka with the former being active up to two hours after sunrise, but L. pakeka moved more and further than L. archeyi during their activity periods. Additionally, L. archeyi had a smaller home range compared to L. pakeka which suggests more prominent site fidelity and more sedentary behaviour in this species. Both species actively sought out specific microhabitats among the ones that were available, either to use during movement or to use as retreat sites, but those microhabitat types also differed between species. L. archeyi were more often found above ground level than L. pakeka and tended to use microhabitats that provided cover. L. archeyi preferred to use trees as retreat sites (roots, branches or trunk) whereas L. pakeka used trees (roots) and rocks. L. pakeka retreat sites had lower and more stable temperatures than outside retreats. Frogs were active inside retreats with no evidence of sleep behaviour for at least the first few hours of retreat use. In the rat control area, L. archeyi used more soil, leaf litter and ferns, and were also more likely to be found at ground level than frogs in the presence of higher numbers of rats. Abiotic factors also influenced movement patterns and microhabitat selection of both species, affirming water balance and thermoregulation are important drivers in frog behaviour. Behavioural attributes and small body size could be aiding in the persistence of L. archeyi in the presence of rats, and large body size and differences in behavioural attributes are likely to put L. pakeka at risk if rats were to reach their habitat. My findings inform on the ecology and behaviour of two Leiopelma species providing valuable information on their habitat requirements, which will enable more effective captive husbandry and better assessment of the appropriateness of translocation sites, aiding in their conservation management.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Ecology and Biodiversity

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Alternative Language


Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Biological Sciences


Nelson, Nicola; Bell, Ben