Imagine a giant, alien hand plucking you from your backyard, weighing you, measuring your leg, and then sticking a giant cotton swab in your mouth – all the while making cooing noises of reassurance, none of which comfort you. And yet, moments later you are placed gently back in your backyard with nothing more than a grandiose story to tell at your next dinner party.

This is how we imagine many Oregon spotted grogs (OSF) felt after having their mouth swabbed for DNA over the past few weeks.

Briar Hunter collecting a mouth swab from an Oregon spotted frog.

In much the same way as you would swab a human’s cheeks for DNA, cotton swabs are rolled around the inside of the frog’s mouth, much to their bewilderment. These swabs will then be taken to a lab where the DNA will be extracted and studied.

These DNA samples are being collected from all of the captive OSF at the Greater Vancouver Zoo, Vancouver Aquarium and Toronto Zoo, and from a sample of the remaining wild populations, in order to compare their genetic make-up. Genetic health is crucial not only for reproductive success but also for overall survival. If you are familiar with the effects of inbreeding on historic European royalty (it wasn’t good), then you know it has serious negative impacts on both the overall health and survival of any offspring. Similar effects can be seen in amphibians like the OSF.

 

A male Oregon spotted frog at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Due to the small size and number of the remaining wild populations, OSF are at high risk of inbreeding and we want to ensure that we have the best genetics possible, both in wild populations and in our conservation breeding programs. This genetic analysis will allow us to determine the genetic robustness of these populations, and if so, whether we can resolve any issue.

Measuring the OSF genetic health will also inform the reintroduction program so we ensure we are producing the healthiest tadpoles with the highest chance of surviving when released into the wild. In this way, we will be helping both our captive and our wild populations of OSF.

 

This research will inform on the current and long-term sustainability of these captive breeding programs and provide insight on the genetic makeup of our breeding program and where we can improve. Overall, this work will improve the cohesiveness of current Oregon spotted frog recovery efforts across Canada, ensuring all time, effort and resources make a lasting impact on Canada’s most endangered amphibian species.

Briar Hunter

Briar is a student with Laurentian University who is studying Oregon spotted frog reproduction. She was onsite at WPC’s Oregon Spotted Frog Recovery Program taking samples from the frogs in the captive rearing program for her work. 

 

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