Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 795–814 | Cite as

Geographic and Seasonal Variation in Alkaloid-Based Chemical Defenses of Dendrobates pumilio from Bocas del Toro, Panama

  • Ralph A. Saporito
  • Maureen A. Donnelly
  • H. Martin Garraffo
  • Thomas F. Spande
  • John W. Daly


Poison frogs contain an alkaloid-based chemical defense that is derived from a diet of certain alkaloid-containing arthropods, which include mites, ants, beetles, and millipedes. Variation in population-level alkaloid profiles among species has been documented, and more than 800 different alkaloids have been identified. In the present study, we examine individual alkaloid variation in the dendrobatid poison frog Dendrobates pumilio among seven populations and between two seasons on Isla Bastimentos, located in the Bocas del Toro archipelago of Panama. Alkaloid profiles vary among populations and between seasons, illustrating that chemical defense in this species can vary on a small spatial and temporal scale. Alkaloid variation among populations is marginally correlated with geographic distance, and close populations have profiles more similar to each other than to distant populations. Individuals within populations also vary in alkaloid profiles. Differences are attributed to both spatial and temporal variations in the availability of alkaloid-containing arthropods. Many of the alkaloids present in the skin of D. pumilio appear likely to be of ant origin, supporting the importance of myrmecophagy in chemical defense among poison frogs. However, a variety of frog skin alkaloids was recently detected in mites, suggesting that mites may also play an important role in chemical defense.


Poisonfrogs Dendrobatid Dendrobates pumilio Alkaloids Arthropods Ants Mites Chemical defense 



We thank the República de Panamá and the Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente for permission to conduct this research (permits SEX/A-15-03 and SEX/A-45-03), the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute for assistance with logistics and the map in Fig. 1, Adam L. Edwards for assistance in the field, Lisa Addington for assistance with GIS, Jenise M. Snyder, the Florida International University Herpetology Group and two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on this manuscript, and the Environmental Protection Agency (Fellowship No. U-91608001-0), Explorers Club, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and the intramural research program of NIDDK for supporting this research. The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee of Florida International University approved the methods utilized in this study. This paper is contribution number 102 to the program in Tropical Biology at Florida International University.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ralph A. Saporito
    • 1
  • Maureen A. Donnelly
    • 1
  • H. Martin Garraffo
    • 2
  • Thomas F. Spande
    • 2
  • John W. Daly
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA
  2. 2.Laboratory of Bioorganic Chemistry, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of HealthDepartment of Health and Human ServicesBethesdaUSA

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