The Ecological Roles of Poison Frogs

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The production of noxious and/or toxic alkaloids from the skin glands of poison frogs has resulted in distinct ecological relationships that may prove to be an ideal example for certain complex biological interactions around the world. The distribution of poison frogs is limited to mainly the tropical habitats of Central and South America. There are over 221 species of poison frogs in the Family Dendrobatidae, in which the three genera Epipedobates, Phylobates, and Dendrobates contain the most toxic and visually brilliant species. The vertical niche range of the poison frogs occurs between ground level to about 10 feet high on trees (Darst et al. 2004). Recent questions surrounding the ecology of poison frogs are based on the production of the toxin, the role that it plays for the frog, and the effects that it has on frog predators. Research has indicated that poison frogs obtain the majority of their toxic alkaloids from dietary sources rather than biosynthesizing the chemicals. The current struggle in this area is identifying the exact dietary sources for which the poison frogs obtain alkaloids (Saporito et al. 2007). With frog populations dissipating worldwide due to the deadly chytrid fungus, there is increasing pressure to find a natural solution to this problem. Scientists have reason to believe that the poison frog's toxin could provide help in finding a cure to this fast spreading, deadly fungus (Macfoy et al. 2005). Along with providing answers to mass frog extinctions, the mimicry relationships among poison frogs and non-toxic species may prove to be an ideal model for other ecological interactions (Darst & Cummings 2006). In order to fully understand the ecological and evolutionary complexity of the poison frog chemical defense system, Saporito et al. (2007) focused on answering the question of what the major dietary source is for alkaloids in poison

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