Catastrophic disturbances often provide “natural laboratories” that allow for greater understanding of ecological processes and response of natural populations. The 1980 eruption of the Mount St. Helens volcano in Washington, USA, provided a unique opportunity to test biotic effects of a large-scale stochastic disturbance, as well as the influence of post-disturbance management. Despite severe alteration of nearly 600 km2 of habitat, coastal tailed frogs (Ascaphus truei) were found within a portion of the blast area five years after eruption. We investigated the genetic source of recolonization within the blast area and tested whether post-eruption salvage logging and subsequent tree planting influenced tailed frog movement patterns. Our results support widespread recolonization across the blast area from multiple sources, as all sites are grouped into one genetic cluster. Landscape genetic models suggest that gene flow through the unmanaged portion of the blast area is influenced only by distance between sites and the frost-free period (r2 = 0.74). In contrast, gene flow pathways within the blast area where salvage logging and replanting occurred post-eruption are strongly limited (r2 = 0.83) by the physiologically important variables of heat load and precipitation. These data suggest that the lack of understory and coarse wood (downed and standing dead tree boles) refugia in salvaged areas may leave frogs more susceptible to desiccation and mortality than those frogs moving through the naturally regenerated area. Simulated populations based on the landscape genetic models show an increase in the inbreeding coefficient in the managed area relative to the unmanaged blast area. In sum, we show surprising resilience of an amphibian species to a catastrophic disturbance, and we suggest that, at least for this species, naturally regenerating habitat may better maintain long-term genetic diversity of populations than actively managed habitat.
Spear, Stephen F.; Crisafulli, Charles M.; Storfer, Andrew. 2012. Genetic structure among coastal tailed frog populations of Mount St. Helens is moderated by post-disturbance management. Ecological Applications. 22(3): 856-869.