Species boundaries, phylogeography and conservation genetics of the red-legged frog (Rana aurora/draytonii) complex

H. Bradley Shaffer, G. M. Fellers, S. Randal Voss, J. C. Oliver, Gregory B. Pauly

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


The red-legged frog, Rana aurora, has been recognized as both a single, polytypic species and as two distinct species since its original description 150 years ago. It is currently recognized as one species with two geographically contiguous subspecies, aurora and draytonii; the latter is protected under the US Endangered Species Act. We present the results of a survey of 50 populations of red-legged frogs from across their range plus four outgroup species for variation in a phylogenetically informative, ∼400 base pairs (bp) fragment of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene. Our mtDNA analysis points to several major results. (1) In accord with several other lines of independent evidence, aurora and draytonii are each diagnosably distinct, evolutionary lineages; the mtDNA data indicate that they do not constitute a monophyletic group, but rather that aurora and R. cascadae from the Pacific northwest are sister taxa; (2) the range of the draytonii mtDNA clade extends about 100 km further north in coastal California than was previously suspected, and corresponds closely with the range limits or phylogeographical breaks of several codistributed taxa; (3) a narrow zone of overlap exists in southern Mendocino County between aurora and draytonii haplotypes, rather than a broad intergradation zone; and (4) the critically endangered population of draytonii in Riverside County, CA forms a distinct clade with frogs from Baja California, Mexico. The currently available evidence favours recognition of aurora and draytonii as separate species with a narrow zone of overlap in northern California.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2667-2677
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2004


  • Conservation genetics
  • Cytochrome b
  • Declining amphibian
  • Pacific Northwest phylogeography
  • Rana aurora
  • Rana draytonii

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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