The Carolina gopher frog (Lithobates capito) [formerly gopher frog (Rana capito)] is primarily an inhabitant of the Coastal Plain, although there was at least one historic population located in the Ridge and Valley of Alabama. Sandy soils, gopher tortoise burrows, and isolated ephemeral ponds in open longleaf pine forest sandhill matrix are high-quality habitat characteristics of areas from which the Carolina gopher frog is known. In 2004, the frog was reported to have extant populations in five locations in Alabama. Despite suspected population declines and the fact that the Carolina gopher frog is a state protected Priority 1 species, no recent survey efforts have been made.
A sister species, the Mississippi gopher frog (Lithobates (Rana) sevosa), is currently known only from nearby Mississippi. Mississippi gopher frogs are a state protected Priority 1 species, federally endangered, and likely historically ranged into Alabama in Mobile and Washington counties. In light of this, surveys are needed to determine if the Mississippi gopher frog presently occurs in Alabama. If present, conservation and management actions would be needed for the extant populations.
Both the Carolina and Mississippi gopher frogs breed in isolated, fishless ponds during late winter and early spring. Due to the ephemeral nature of the ponds, gopher frogs are dependent on rainfall to fill the ponds sufficiently to stimulate breeding. Ponds known as historic breeding sites potential pond sites will be visited during the breeding season. Surveys listening for calling males, visual searches for adult frogs and egg masses, and possible post-breeding surveys for tadpoles will all be conducted.
The male gopher frog call is a characteristic snore and egg masses are identified by their globular shape and typical attachment to a vertical stem of vegetation. Since tadpole identification tends to be difficult, detection of gopher frogs will rely heavily upon hearing males calling, noting the presence of egg masses, or visually noting adult frogs of both sexes.
Additionally, environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis will be used. A researcher may not be able to make a site visit during the breeding season, and may miss an opportunity to hear males calling, see pairs in amplexus, or locate fresh egg masses. If gopher frogs are using the pond, DNA will be present in the water in the form of cells and tissues shed by the frogs. Water samples will be taken and filtered to capture DNA, which can then be extracted and tested for presence of gopher frog DNA.
Through the use of typical field methods and the newer technique of eDNA, distribution and status relative to pond usage of Carolina gopher frog, and potentially Mississippi gopher frog, in southern Alabama can be completed.