, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 159–168 | Cite as

A review of chemical ecology in poison frogs

  • Ralph A. Saporito
  • Maureen A. Donnelly
  • Thomas F. Spande
  • H. Martin Garraffo
Review Paper


Herein we review what is known about the chemical ecology of poison frogs with a focus on dendrobatid poison frogs. While five anuran families are known to have an alkaloid-derived chemical defense, the dendrobatids have been studied in greatest detail and provides chemical ecologists with a complex model system for understanding how chemical defenses operate in real time and may have evolved through evolutionary time. We describe the diversity of alkaloid defenses known from frogs, alkaloid sequestration, biosynthesis and modification, and we review what is known concerning arthropod sources for alkaloids. There is variation in nearly every attribute of the system and we try to describe some of the challenges associated with unraveling the complexities of this model system.


Ants Bufonids Chemical defense Dendrobatids Mantellids Melanophryniscus Oribatid mites Pseudophryne Sequestration 



This paper is dedicated to the memory of our friend and colleague John W. Daly, whose pioneering research founded and continues to inspire the study of poison frog chemical ecology. We would also like to acknowledge his life-long colleague, C.W. Myers (Curator Emeritus, Department of Herpetology, American Museum of Natural History), who collaborated extensively with John over the past 40 years on the study of poison frogs. We thank Tappey H. Jones (Virginia Military Institute), who collaborated with John in the identification and synthesis of ant alkaloids. We also thank Richard L. Hoffman (Virginia Museum of Natural History), John T. Longino (Evergreen State College), and Roy A. Norton (State University of New York, Syracuse) for their assistance in identifying many of the alkaloid-containing arthropods. We are grateful to Alan H. Savitzky and Jenise M. Snyder for providing valuable comments that improved the quality of this manuscript. We would like to thank the Environmental Protection Agency, Florida International University, National Geographic Society, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Organization for Tropical Studies, and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute for their generous funding. A National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship partially supported R.A.S. This work is derived from a presentation in the symposium “Sequestered Defensive Compounds in Tetrapod Vertebrates: A Symposium in Memory of John W. Daly,” held at the Sixth World Congress of Herpetology in Manaus, Brazil, on 21 August 2008 and supported by NSF IOS-0813842.


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Copyright information

© Springer Basel AG 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ralph A. Saporito
    • 1
  • Maureen A. Donnelly
    • 2
  • Thomas F. Spande
    • 3
  • H. Martin Garraffo
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of BiologyJohn Carroll UniversityUniversity HeightsUSA
  2. 2.College of Arts and SciencesFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA
  3. 3.Laboratory of Bioorganic Chemistry, DHHSNIDDK, NIHBethesdaUSA

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