Amphibian populations have been declining worldwide for the last three decades. Determining the risk of extinction is one of the major goals of amphibian conservation, yet few quantitative models have been developed for amphibian populations. Like most rare or threatened populations, there is a paucity of life history data available for most amphibian populations. Data on the critical juvenile life stage are particularly lacking. Pattern oriented modeling (POM) has been used successfully to estimate life history parameters indirectly when critical data lacking, but has not been applied to amphibian populations. We describe a spatially explicit, individual-based, stochastic simulation model developed to project population dynamics of pond-breeding amphibian populations. We parameterized the model with life history and habitat data collected for the endangered Houston toad (Bufo houstonensis), a species for which there is a high degree of uncertainty for juvenile and adult male survival. During model evaluation, we focused on explicitly reducing this uncertainty, evaluating 16 different versions of the model that represented the range of parametric uncertainty for juvenile and adult male survival. Following POM protocol, we compared simulation results to four population-level patterns observed in the field: population size, adult sex ratio, proportion of toads returning to their natal pond, and mean maximum distance moved. Based on these comparisons, we rejected 11 of the 16 model versions. Results of the remaining versions confirmed that population persistence depends heavily on juvenile survival, and further suggested that probability of juvenile survival is likely between 0.0075 and 0.015 (previous estimates ranged from 0.003 to 0.02), and that annual male survival is near 0.15 (previous estimates ranged up to 0.43). Thus, although the uncertainty associated with population projections for the Houston toad remains large, we were able, via the POM approach, to (1) narrow the range of plausible survival estimates, (2) calculate a first estimate of over-wintering metamorph survival, and (3) provide a set of alternative model versions that quantifies the current level of uncertainty associated with population projections. These results suggest that POM is particularly well suited for modeling amphibian systems, and other ecological systems characterized by low structural uncertainty and high parametric uncertainty.
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