ABSTRACT

Adaptive coloration in amphibians is widespread and aids in camouflage, communication, and thermoregulation. Understanding the environmental factors that contribute to color variation is important for predicting how changes in climate and habitat parameters may alter amphibian fitness. Studies on toad coloration have focused on genetic elements, dorsal spot patterns, and juveniles, but less is known about the relationship between adult toad coloration and environmental conditions. The goal of this study was to examine dorsal color variation in adult American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus) in Erie County, Pennsylvania, USA, to determine how environmental and morphological factors influence coloration. We conducted visual surveys to sample adult toads across a habitat gradient and recorded several potential predictor variables (i.e., site elevation, substrate type, snout–vent length, and body surface temperature). We calibrated photographs of each toad and quantified red (R), green (G), and blue (B) color values within seven dorsal body regions. We summarized RGB values for each dorsal body region using a principal component analysis and used model selection approaches to select between models containing different predictor variables. The most supported model to explain the variation in color of all dorsal body regions contained only site elevation. On average, the body regions of all toads from higher elevation sites were darker than those of toads from lower elevations, but the amount of variation in dorsal coloration accounted for by elevation was low. Our results suggest that the factors that drive variation in toad dorsal coloration are complex, but that this trait is potentially sensitive to environmental changes.

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