Swannack, Todd Michael (2009-05). Modeling aspects of the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of the endangered Houston toad. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • The goal of my dissertation was to describe the dynamics of a group of Houston toads located at the Griffith League Ranch (GLR), Bastrop County, Texas. My research included using statistical modeling to predict activity and abundance, mark-recapture techniques to estimate survivorship, and simulation modeling to explore the impacts of the difference in age at first reproduction and to project the future dynamics of the population at the GLR. From 2001 - 2005, 225 individual Houston toads (199 M : 26 F) were captured using two methods: breeding pond surveys and drift fences. Houston toads were neither caught equally among capture methods, nor across years. Toad activity was mostly confined within their breeding season, and activity was not continuous. A logistic regression indicated activity depended on time of year, mean precipitation, mean minimum daily temperature, and mean percent lunation as well as two-way interactions with moon-phase and other variables. Abundance depended on time of year, current precipitation, minimum temperature, and two-way interactions between time of year and the other two variables. Twenty-one of the 199 males (10.5%) and no females were recaptured among years. The probability of male survival was estimated using program MARK. Eight of 16 candidate models were supported and all but one contained precipitation as a covariate, indicating precipitation is important for Houston toad survival. Survivorship estimates varied from 0.1 to 0.41. The sex ratio was significantly male-biased. The odds of catching females in traps were 3.5 greater than capturing females in a pond, while the odds of capturing males in a trap were 0.28 compared to ponds. Results from a simulation model indicated the sex ratio is biased because of the difference in maturation times between males and females, coupled with high juvenile mortality. Results from an individual-based, spatially-explicit, stochastic simulation model, indicated a relatively low probability (~ 0.013) of B. houstonensis going extinct at the GLR within the next 10 years. Emergent properties of the model were similar to results observed in the field or reported in the literature. The model also identified that dispersal of Houston toads should be a future research priority.

publication date

  • May 2009