Using DNA Fingerprinting to Assess Genetic Structure of the Vernal Pool Amphibian Rana sylvatica Public
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In this study, I used restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis (DNA fingerprinting) to study the genetic population structure of wood frogs, Rana sylvatica, collected as egg masses from vernal pools within the Massachusetts Audubon Society Lincoln Woods Wildlife Sanctuary in Leominster, MA. The average genetic relatedness of sibling individuals, non-sibling individuals from within the same pool, and individuals from pools of close (5 m), far (200 m) and distant (40 km) spatial separations was calculated. The goal was to use genetic relatedness to estimate the breeding patterns of R. sylvatica and use that information to make general management recommendations that could be applied to other vernal pools breeders. I detected relative differences in genetic similarity between individuals from pools only 5 meters apart, however over a larger distance of 200 meters no significant genetic differences were present. This suggests that although wood frogs are known to be highly philopatric, they may use information other than simply proximity to their natal pool when choosing breeding sites. Factors such as species composition, water chemistry and heterogeneity of the landscape between pools may influence breeding site choice. Also, contrary to the findings of recent studies, the distance between vernal pools may not be the best indicator of the genetic similarity of the individuals they host. Pools in close proximity to one another may host genetically distinct populations, and therefore management decisions should be made on a pool-by-pool basis. Consequently, when managing populations of R. sylvatica, and possibly other vernal pool breeders, taking into account parameters other than simply the spatial separation of pools within an array may avoid decisions that could result in the loss of genetic diversity.
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