Freezing impairment of male reproductive behaviors of the freeze-tolerant wood frog, Rana sylvatica.
Costanzo, John P.
Irwin, Jason T.
Lee, Richard E.
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The wood frog (Rana sylvatica), a temperate-zone anuran that overwinters within the frost zone, is adapted to tolerate the freezing and thawing of its tissues. Because the effects of freezing on complex neurobehavioral function are unknown and because R. sylvatica encounters subfreezing temperatures during its late-winter breeding season, we investigated the reproductive behaviors and physiology of male frogs after freezing (minimum body temperature, -2°C) and postthaw recovery (4°C). In tests simulating conditions at the breeding pool, these frogs, which otherwise behaved normally, exhibited reduced mate-searching effort and fewer assaults on mates and did not amplex females until 16-24 h after thawing. Although amplectic ability was ultimately restored in most frogs, they competed poorly for mates against never frozen controls. Further study suggested that the level of behavioral impairment depends on the severity of the freezing exposure. During freezing, tissues accumulated large quantities of the cryoprotectant glucose and desiccated extensively, responses that promote freezing survival. Freezing also caused marked hydroosmotic and metabolic perturbations, which may have impaired neurobehavioral function, perhaps by interfering with the processing of audio, visual, and tactile stimuli. Individuals that encounter subfreezing temperatures shortly before arriving at the breeding pools may incur reduced reproductive success.