Water balance of field-excavated aestivating Australian desert frogs, the cocoon-forming Neobatrachus aquilonius and the non-cocooning Notaden nichollsi (Amphibia: Myobatrachidae)
The Company of Biologists
Faculty of Business and Law
School of Marketing, Tourism and Leisure
Burrowed aestivating frogs of the cocoon-forming species Neobatrachus aquilonius and the non-cocooning species Notaden nichollsi were excavated in the Gibson Desert of central Australia. Their hydration state (osmotic pressure of the plasma and urine) was compared to the moisture content and water potential of the surrounding soil. The non-cocooning N. nichollsi was consistently found in sand dunes. While this sand had favourable water potential properties for buried frogs, the considerable spatial and temporal variation in sand moisture meant that frogs were not always in positive water balance with respect to the surrounding soil. The cocoon-forming N. aquilonius was excavated from two distinct habitat types, a claypan in which frogs had a well-formed cocoon and a dune swale where frogs did not have a cocoon. Cocoons of excavated frogs ranged in thickness from 19.4 microm to 55.61 microm and consisted of 81-229 layers. Cocooned claypan N. aquilonius were nearing exhaustion of their bladder water reserves and had a urine osmolality approaching that of the plasma. By contrast, non-cocooned N. aquilonius from the dune swale were fully hydrated, although soil moisture levels were not as high as calculated to be necessary to maintain water balance. Both species had similar plasma arginine vasotocin (AVT) concentrations ranging from 9.4 to 164 pg ml(-1), except for one cocooned N. aquilonius with a higher concentration of 394 pg ml(-1). For both species, AVT showed no relationship with plasma osmolality over the lower range of plasma osmolalities but was appreciably increased at the highest osmolality recorded. This study provides the first evidence that cocoon formation following burrowing is not obligatory in species that are capable of doing so, but that cocoon formation occurs when soil water conditions are more desiccating than for non-cocooned frogs.