Here's a really brief, really basic proposal I sent in to get some seed money for the project from the univ...
Feedback is welcome. Later I'll elaborate a lot more about the procedure etc, but this is just to warm them up to the idea and give us some starter money.
Mate Selection on Bastimentos Island
Dendrobates pumilio is a vividly colored, highly variable, poison dart frog from Central America. Their range is from Nicaragua to Panama, with most of the variation in color, size, and pattern in Panama. D. pumilio are among the few frogs which are obligate oophages, meaning their tadpoles are fed exclusively unfertilized eggs provided by the female. They are an extremely abundant frog whose size ranges from ½” to around 1”, and whose colors spread the breadth of the color spectrum. Normally they are fairly uniform in color and pattern in each population, however, there is one island where this is not the case. Bastimentos Island is located in the North Eastern part of Panama off the coast. It is home to the world renowned Red Frog Beach (with the red frogs being D. pumilio). During a trip there in 2003, I was witness to just the various color forms, ‘morphs’, found there. I was very surprised to see many color morphs living sympatrically, as many as 4 morphs on one large buttressed tree (see attached photo). This left the question posed, do these forms hybridize, and to what extent do the frogs distinguish between color morphs.
The project we are proposing is to test the theory that these frogs can distinguish between their own color morph, and will prefer breeding with members of similar colors/patterns. A similar project was done by Kyle Summers several years ago using two different island populations. He demonstrated that under normal lighting, the frogs will prefer their own type, and even under colored lighting, they will still choose their own type the majority of the time. This was very interesting work, and well done, however, now it should be progressed to see if the same is true within a population comprised of different color variants.
For our proposed project we are blessed with several things in our favor. There are currently exports from Panama coming into the country, and the Bastimentos forms of D. pumilio are among those being imported. After spending time talking to one of the main importers, he is requesting the color morphs we need for the study from the exporter in Panama, and is requesting the proper color variants (as opposed to sending only one color form). The importer has also agreed to give us a generous discount from the retail price to help facilitate the study. I also have a great deal of experience with this species both in the wild as well as in captive husbandry. We also have the aquariums that we need for the study available for our use in the lab. Misting systems, which are vital for stimulating breeding, are also available. Essentially, we only have a small cost for preparing the vivaria for the frogs, and then the cost of the animals themselves.
The vivaria will be comprised of a several branches and pieces of driftwood, which are for males to establish calling spots to attract females. There will also be tropical plants for ground cover and giving the frogs cover. Bromeliads are normally one of the tadpole deposition sites in the wild, but they will not be used for this study due to the difficulty of locating tadpoles in their bracts. Instead, we will use a myriad of plastic film canisters, and other devices for holding water for the tadpoles, but still making viewing simple. This has been successfully done in captive frogs for their reproduction. I have also placed enhanced breeding sites (plastic cups) out in the field and they have used them. Feeding will take place every-other day and will consist of Drosophila (fruit flies), Collembola (spring tails) mainly, as well as the occasional confused flour beetle, and meal moth maggots. The food offered will be dusted with calcium powder and other vitamins rotated every-other feeding. The misting systems will spray three times a day for five minutes per cycle. The first misting will be in the morning around sun rise, then midday, and once before dark. This serves both to stimulate breeding as well as to flush the water in the tadpole containers to keep it fresh.
With the vivariums set up, and proper care in place, reproduction should soon follow. The animals will be placed together after a quarantine period (of no less than 30 days, and up to 90 depending on the health of the animals) and allowed to select mates. We will place appropriate numbers of frogs in the aquariums depending on the volume of them. The smallest, of 50 gallons, will house up to six individuals. The largest, 150 gallons, could house up to a dozen or more—all depending on the number we have to work with. Each terrarium will have a minimum of two color morphs, but may house up to as many as we can obtain (most likely 4). The terrarium will be checked twice a week for tadpoles, and any found will be recorded. We will also identify the female which attends the tadpole. It should not be difficult from that to identify the father of the offspring. All of these will be monitored carefully throughout the study. From this, we are able to tell which females are mating, and with what males. Periodically, we can experimentally switch males out of certain terrariums and switch them. This will allow for more variations of colors interacting with other types. We can find females which have been receptive to reproduction with males in the past and introduce males of other color forms to them.
At the conclusion of the study, the frogs will be given to various zoological institutions which express interest in keeping them. Some of the offspring may be traded with hobbyists for other species which we are using for studies, but priority will be given to institutions. We will offer any help they require in their display, care and maintenance, and breeding we can.