Will predicted positive effects of climate change be enough to reverse declines of the regionally Endangered Natterjack toad in Ireland?

Marina Reyne, Natasha E. McGowan, Jason Flanagan, Paul Nolan, Aurelie Aubry, Mark Emmerson, Ferdia Marnell, Neil Reid

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The global amphibian crisis is driven by a range of stressors including disease, habitat loss, and environmental contamination. The role of climate change remains poorly studied and is likely to influence environmental suitability, ranges, reproduction, and phenology. This study aimed to characterize the bioclimatic‐habitat niche space of the Natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita) throughout its European range and to assess the impact of climate on the toad's environmental suitability and breeding behavior in Ireland, where declines in recent decades have resulted in it being regionally Red‐Listed as Endangered. To address these questions, we first identified which climate variables best predict the current bioclimatic niche, fecundity (number of eggs deposit), and phenology. We then used future climate projections for two time periods (2041–2060 and 2061–2080) and two greenhouse gas emission scenarios (RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5) to predict how the species range, fecundity, and phenology would change. The European range of the species was found to be limited by winter temperatures while its bioclimatic niche varied markedly throughout its range. Species distribution models suggested projected climate change will increase environmental suitability for the species throughout its range, including Ireland, but most notably in Scandinavia and the Baltic. Fecundity in Ireland was greatest during the cool temperatures of spring and after wet winters associated with ephemeral breeding pool availability. Warm, dry summers in the preceding year influenced fecundity the following spring indicative of carryover effects. Initiation of spawning was driven by spring temperatures, not rainfall. Projections suggested future climate change may increase fecundity in Ireland while spawning may commence earlier throughout the 21st century especially under a high greenhouse gas emission scenario (RCP 8.5). Despite recent range contraction and population declines due to habitat deterioration, the Natterjack toad, if subject to a suitable species conservation strategy, has the potential to be a climate change winner, notwithstanding unpredictable habitat and land‐use change, sea‐level rise inducing coastal erosion, changes in invertebrate prey abundance, and disease.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEcology and Evolution
Early online date11 Mar 2021
Publication statusEarly online date - 11 Mar 2021


  • Amphibia
  • bioclim
  • Epidalea calamita
  • Fecundity
  • GLMM
  • Maxent
  • Range expansion
  • SDM
  • Spawning
  • Species Distribution Model


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