The Evolution, Physiology and Ecology of the Australian Arid-Zone Frog Fauna

  • J. Dale RobertsEmail author
  • Danielle Edwards


The frog fauna of the Australian arid zone is diverse. Most species are independent of free-standing water except for breeding where all species have aquatic egg deposition and a conventional tadpole as the larval stage. The fauna is derived from two sources: taxa related to frog genera found across i) tropical, northern Australia and ii) genera from temperate, southern and eastern Australian. Those derivations are both recent – with some ongoing tenuous connections to tropical in north-west coastal areas, and ancient, reflecting the long term drying trend in arid Australia over the last 20 million years. Burrowing species can form waterproof cocoons, but also survive in moist soils. Most can reduce metabolic rates and ingest high quality foods in sufficient quantities in very short time frames to allow survival underground for many years between major rain events, and to allow them to be super abundant. Australian frogs do well in the arid zone!


  1. Andersson M (1997) Sexual selection. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  2. Anstis M (2013) Tadpoles and frog of Australia. New Holland, LondonGoogle Scholar
  3. Anstis M, Price LC, Roberts JD, Catalano SR, Hines HB, Doughty P Donnellan SC (2016) Revision of the water-holding frogs, Cyclorana platycephala (Anura: Hylidae), from arid Australia, including description of a new species. Zootaxa 4126:451–479CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Blaylock LA, Ruibal R, Platt-Alola K (1976) Skin structure and wiping behaviour of Phyllomedusine frogs. Copeia 1976:283–295CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Byrne M, Yeates DK, Joseph L, Kearney M, Bowle J, Williams MAJ, Cooper S, Donnellan SC, Keogh JS, Leys R, Melville J, Murphy DJ, Porch N, Wyrwoll K-H (2008) Birth of a biome: insights into the assembly and maintenance of the Australian arid zone biota. Mol Ecol 17:4398–4417CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Byrne M, Steane DA, Joseph L, Yeates DK, Jordan GJ, Crayn D, Aplin K, Cantrill DJ, Cook LG, Crisp MD, Keogh JS, Melville J, Moritz C, Porch N, Sniderman JMK, Sunnucks P, Weston PH (2011) Decline of a biome: evolution, contraction, fragmentation, extinction and invasion of the Australian mesic zone biota. J Biogeogr 38:1635–1656CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Calaby JH (1960) A note on the food of Australian desert frogs. West Aust Nat 7:79–80Google Scholar
  8. Cartledge VA, Withers PC, McMaster KA, Thompson GG Bradshaw SD (2006) Water balance of field-excavated aestivating Australian desert frogs, the cocoon forming Neobatrachus aquilonius and the non-cocooning Notaden nichollsi (Amphibia: Myobatrachidae). J Exp Biol 209:3309–3321CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Catullo RA, Keogh JS (2014) Aridification drove repeated episodes of diversification between Australian biomes: evidence from a multi-locus phylogeny of Australian toadlets (Uperoleia: Myobatrachidae). Mol Phylogenet Evol 79:106–117CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Catullo RA, Doughty P, Roberts JD, Keogh JS (2011) Multi-locus phylogeny and taxonomic revision of Uperoleia toadlets (Anura: Myobatrachidae) from the western arid zone of Australia, with a description of a new species. Zootaxa 2902:1–43Google Scholar
  11. Catullo RA, Lanfear R, Doughty P, Keogh JS (2014) The biogeographical boundaries of Northern Australia: evidence from ecological niche models and a multi-locus phylogeny of Uperoleia toadlets (Anura: Myobatrachidae). J Biogeogr 41:659–672CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cogger HG (2014) Reptiles & amphibians of Australia, 7th edn. CSIRO Publishing, CollingwoodGoogle Scholar
  13. Crisp MD, Cook LG (2013) How was the Australian flora assembled over the last 65 million years? A molecular perspective. Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 44:303–324CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cullen LE, Grierson PF (2009) Multi-decadal scale variability in autumn-winter rainfall in South-Western Australia since 1655 AD as reconstructed from tree rings of Callitris columellaris. Clim Dyn 33:433–444CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Davies KF, Melbourne BA, James CD, Cunningham RB (2010) Using traits of species to understand responses to land use change: birds and livestock grazing in the Australian arid zone. Biol Conserv 143:78–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Davis RA, Roberts JD (2004) Operational sex ratio and mating behaviour of the myobatrachid frog Neobatrachus kunapalari. J R Soc West Aust 87:97–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dimmit MA, Ruibal R (1980) Exploitation of food resources by spadefoot toads (Scaphiopus). Copeia 1980:854–862CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Donnellan S, Anstis M, Price L, Wheaton L (2012a) A new species of Crinia (Anura: Myobatrachidae) from the Flinders Ranges, South Australia. Zootaxa 3499:1–26Google Scholar
  19. Donnellan SC, Mahony MJ, Bertozzi T (2012b) A new species of Pseudophryne (Anura: Myobatrachidae) from the central Australian ranges. Zootaxa 3476:69–85Google Scholar
  20. Duellman WE, Marion AB, Hedges SB (2016) Phylogenetics, classification, and biogeography of the treefrogs (Amphibia: Anura: Arboranae). Zootaxa 4104:1–109CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Frost DR, Grant T, Faivovich J, Bain RH, Haas A, Haddad CFB, De Sá RO, Channing A, Wilkinson M, Donnellan SC, Raxworthy CJ, Campbell JA, Blotto BL, Moler P, Drewes RC, Nussbaum RA, Lynch JD, Green DM, Wheeler WC (2006) The amphibian tree of life. Bull Am Mus Nat Hist 297:370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gerhardt HC, Huber F (2002) Acoustic communication in insects and anurans. The University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  23. Holloway AK, Cannatella DC, Gerhardt HC, Hillis DM (2006) Polyploids with different origins and ancestors form a single sexual polyploid species. Am Nat 167:E88–E101CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Hoskin CJ, James S, Grigg GC (2009) Ecology and taxonomy-driven deviations in the frog call–body size relationship across the diverse Australian frog fauna. J Zool 278:36–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. James CD, Landsberg J, Morton SR (1999) Provision of watering points in the Australian arid zone: a review of effects on biota. J Arid Environ 41:87–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Keller MJ, Gerhardt HC (2001) Polyploidy alters advertisement call structure in gray treefrogs. Proc R Soc Lond B 268:341–345CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lee AK (1968) Water economy of the burrowing frog, Heleioporus eyrei (Gray). Copeia 1968:741–745CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lee AK, Mercer EH (1967) Cocoon surrounding desert-dwelling frogs. Science 157:87–88CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Lindgren E (1960) Frogs at Jigalong. West Aust Nat 7:78–79Google Scholar
  30. Liu X, Rohr JR, Li Y (2013) Climate, vegetation, introduced hosts and trade shape a global wildlife pandemic. Proc R Soc Lond B 280:2012–2506Google Scholar
  31. Mable BK, Roberts JD (1997) Mitochondrial DNA evolution of tetraploids in the genus Neobatrachus (Anura: Myobatrachidae). Copeia 1997:680–689CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mahony MJ, Robinson ES (1986) Nucleolar organiser region (NOR) location in karyotypes of Australian ground frogs (Family Myobatrachidae). Genetica 68:119–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mahony MJ, Donnellan SC, Roberts JD (1996) An electrophoretic investigation of relationships of diploid and tetraploid species of Australian desert frogs Neobatrachus (Anura: Myobatrachidae). Aust J Zool 44:639–650CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Main AR (1964) A new species of Pseudophryne (Anura: Leptodactylidae) from North-Western Australia. West Aust Nat 9:66–72Google Scholar
  35. Main AR (1968) Ecology, systematics and evolution of Australian frogs. Adv Ecol Res 5:37–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Main AR, Calaby JH (1957) New records and notes on the biology of frogs from North-Western Australia. West Aust Nat 5:216–228Google Scholar
  37. Martin AA (1972) Studies in Australian amphibia III. The Limnodynastes dorsalis complex (Anura: Leptodactylidae). Aust J Zool 20:165–211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Maxson LR, Ondrula DP, Tyler MJ (1985) An immunological perspective on evolutionary relationships in Australian frogs of the Hylid genus Cyclorana. Aust J Zool 33:17–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. McMaster KA (2006) Ecophysiology of Australian cocooning and non-cocooning, burrowing, desert frogs. PhD thesis, School of Animal Biology, University of Western AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  40. Morton SR, Masters P, Hobbs TJ (1993) Estimates of abundance of burrowing frogs in spinifex grasslands of the Tanami desert, Northern Territory. The Beagle Rec North Territory Mus Arts Sci 10:67–70Google Scholar
  41. Palmer JG, Cook ER, Turney CSM, Allen K, Fenwick P, Cook BI, O’Donnell A, Lough J, Grierson P, Baker P (2015) Drought variability in the Eastern Australia and New Zealand summer drought atlas (ANZDA, CE 1500-2012) modulated by the Interdecadal Pacific oscillation. Environ Res Lett 10:124002CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pillans B (2018) Seeing red: some aspects of the geological and climatic history of the Australian arid zone. In: Lambers H (ed) On the ecology of Australia’s arid zone. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne, pp 5–43Google Scholar
  43. Predavec M, Dickman CR (1993) Ecology of desert frogs: a study from Southwestern Queensland. In: Lunney D, Ayres D (eds) Herpetology in Australia a diverse discipline, Transactions of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales. Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, Mosman, pp 159–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Ptacek MB, Gerhardt HC, Sage RD (1994) Speciation by polyploidy in treefrogs: multiple origins of the tetraploid, Hyla versicolor. Evolution 48:898–908CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Pyron RA, Wiens JJ (2011) Large-scale phylogeny of Amphibia including over 2800 species, and a revised classification of extant frogs, salamanders, and caecilians. Mol Phylogenet Evol 61:543–583CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Read JL (1992) Influence of habitats, climate, grazing and mining on terrestrial vertebrates at Olympic dam, South Australia. Rangel J 14:143–156CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rix MG, Edwards DL, Byrne M, Harvey MS, Joseph L, Roberts JD (2015) Biogeography and speciation of terrestrial fauna in the South-Western Australian biodiversity hotspot. Biol Rev 90:762–793CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Roberts JD (1993) Hybridisation between the western and northern call races of the Limnodynastes tasmaniensis complex (Anura: Myobatrachidae) on the Murray River in South Australia. Aust J Zool 41:101–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Roberts JD (1997a) Call evolution in Neobatrachus (Anura: Myobatrachidae): speculations on tetraploid origins. Copeia 1997:791–801CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Roberts JD (1997b) Geographic variation in calls of males and determination of species boundaries in tetraploid frogs of the Australian genus Neobatrachus (Myobatrachidae). Aust J Zool 45:95–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Roberts JD (2010) Taxonomic status of the Australian burrowing frogs Neobatrachus sudelli, N. centralis and Neoruinosus and clarification of the type specimen of N. albipes. Rec West Aust Mus 25:455–458CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Roberts JD, Byrne PG (2011) Polyandry, sperm competition and the evolution of anuran amphibians. Adv Study Behav 43:1–53Google Scholar
  53. Roberts JD, Maxson LR (1986) Phylogenetic relationships in the genus Limnodynastes (Anura: Myobatrachidae): a molecular perspective. Aust J Zool 34:561–573CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Roberts JD, Maxson LR (1989) A molecular perspective on relationships of Australian Pseudophryne (Anura: Myobatrachidae). Syst Zool 38:154–165CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Roberts BP, Roberts JD (2012) Litoria moorei (Motorbike Frog) temperature. Herpetolog Rev 43:466–467Google Scholar
  56. Robertson JGM (1984) Acoustic spacing by breeding males of Uperoleia rugosa(Anura: Leptodactylidae). Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie 64:283–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Robertson JGM (1986a) Male territoriality, fighting and assessment of fighting ability in the Australian frog Uperoleia rugosa. Anim Behav 34:763–772CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Robertson JGM (1986b) Female choice, male strategies and the role of vocalizations in the Australian frog Uperoleia rugosa. Anim Behav 34:773–784CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Robertson JGM (1990) Female choice increases fertilization success in the Australian frog, Uperoleia laevigata. Anim Behav 39:639–645CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Schmid M, Evans BJ, Bogart JP (2015) Polyploidy in Amphibia. Cytogenet Genome Res 145:315–330CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. Slatyer C, Rosauer D, Lemckert F (2007) An assessment of endemism and species richness patterns in the Australian Anura. J Biogeogr 34:583–596CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Steinborner ST, Gao CW, Raftery MJ, Waugh RJ, Blumenthal T, Bowie JH, Wallace JC, Tyler MJ (1994) The structures of four tryptophyllin and three rubellidin peptides from the Australian red tree frog Litoria rubella. Aust J Chem 47:2099–2108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Symula R, Keogh JS, Cannatella DC (2008) Ancient phylogeographic divergence in southeastern Australia among populations of the widespread common froglet, Crinia signifera. Mol Phylogenet Evol 47:569–580CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  64. Thompson GG, Withers PC, McMaster KA, Cartledge VA (2005) Burrows of desert-adapted frogs, Neobatrachus aquilonius and Notaden nichollsi. J R Soc West Aust 88:17–23Google Scholar
  65. Tozer CR, Vance TR, Roberts JL, Kiem AS, Curran MAJ, Moy AD (2016) An ice core derived 1013-year catchment-scale annual rainfall reconstruction in subtropical eastern Australia. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 20:1703–1717CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Tyler MJ (1971) The phylogenetic significance of vocal sac structure in hylid frogs. Uni Kansas Publ Mus Nat Hist 19:319–360Google Scholar
  67. Tyler MJ, Doughty P (2009) Field guide to frogs of Western Australia, 4th edn. Western Australian Museum, PerthGoogle Scholar
  68. Van Beurden E (1980) Energy metabolism of dormant Australian water-holding frogs (Cyclorana platycephalus). Copeia 1980:787–799CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Vidal-García MV, Byrne PG, Roberts JD, Keogh JS (2014) The role of phylogeny and ecology in shaping morphology in 21 genera and 127 species of Australo-Papuan myobatrachid frogs. J Evol Biol 27:181–192CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  70. Warburg M (1965) Studies on the water economy of some Australian frogs. Aust J Zool 13:317–330CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Wells KD (2007) The ecology and behaviour of anurans. University of Chicago Press Ltd, LondonGoogle Scholar
  72. Withers PC (1992) Comparative animal physiology. Saunders College Publishing, Fort WorthGoogle Scholar
  73. Withers PC (1993) Metabolic depression during aestivation in the Australian frogs, Neobatrachus and Cyclorana. Aust J Zool 41:467–473CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Withers PC (1995a) Evaporative water loss and colour change in the Australian desert tree frog Litoria rubella (Amphibia: Hylidae). Rec West Aust Mus 17:277–281Google Scholar
  75. Withers PC (1995b) Cocoon formation and structure in the aestivating Australian desert frogs, Neobatrachus and Cyclorana. Aust J Zool 43:429–441CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Withers PC (1998) Evaporative water loss and the role of cocoon formation in Australian frogs. Aust J Zool 46:405–418CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Withers PC, Hillman SC, Drewes RC (1984) Evaporative water loss and skin lipids of anuran amphibians. J Exp Zool 232:11–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Young JE, Christian KA, Donnellan S, Tracy CR, Parry D (2005) Comparative analysis of cutaneous evaporative water loss in frogs demonstrates correlation with ecological habits. Physiol Biochem Zool: Ecol Evol Approaches 78:847–856CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre of Excellence in Natural Resource ManagementThe University of Western AustraliaAlbanyAustralia
  2. 2.School of Biological SciencesThe University of Western AustraliaAlbanyAustralia
  3. 3.Life and Environmental SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaMercedUSA

Personalised recommendations