Amphibian survival, growth and development in response to mineral nitrogen exposure and predator cues in the field: An experimental approach

Kerry L. Griffis-Kyle, Mark E. Ritchie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Mineral nitrogen (N) has been suggested as a potential factor causing declines in amphibian populations, especially in agricultural landscapes; however, there is a question as to whether it remains in the water column long enough to be toxic. We explored the hypothesis that mineral N can cause both lethal and sublethal toxic effects in amphibian embryos and larvae in a manipulative field experiment. We sampled 12 ponds, fertilizing half with ammonium nitrate fertilizer early in the spring, and measured hatching, survival, development, growth, and the incidence of deformities in native populations of wood frog (Rana sylvatica) and eastern tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum tigrinum) embryos and larvae held in in situ enclosures. We found that higher ammonium concentrations negatively affect R. sylvatica more strongly than A. tigrinum. R. sylvatica tended to have lower survival as embryos and young tadpoles, slowed embryonic development, and an increased proportion of hatchlings with deformities at experimentally elevated ammonium. A. tigrinum did not experience significantly reduced survival, but their larval development was slowed in response to elevated ammonium and the abundance of large invertebrate predators. Variable species susceptibility, such as that shown by R sylvatica and A. tigrinum, could have large indirect effects on aquatic community structure through modification of competitive or predator-prey relationships. Ammonium and nitrate + nitrite concentrations were not correlated with other measures that might have affected amphibians, such as pH, pond area, depth, or vegetation. Our results highlight the potential importance of elevated ammonium on the growth, development and survival of amphibians, especially those that breed in surface waters receiving anthropogenic N inputs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)633-642
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2007


  • Agriculture
  • Ambystoma tigrinum tigrinum
  • Amphibian declines
  • Field experiment
  • Rana sylvatica

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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