Individual variation in alkaloid content of poison frogs of Madagascar (Mantella; mantellidae)

Valerie C. Clark, Valérie Rakotomalala, Olga Ramilijaona, Leif Abrell, Brian L. Fisher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Brightly colored Malagasy poison frogs, Mantella spp., sequester lipophilic, basic alkaloids from arthropod prey for their own chemical defense. Consequently, microsympatric prey diversity is expected to influence alkaloid diversity observed in poison frogs. Twenty-two specimens of three Mantella species from four localities in moist forests of southeastern Madagascar were analyzed individually via gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, revealing that they contain over 80 known alkaloids. Frogs within a locality possessed significantly similar alkaloid content and diversity, while frogs from areas that varied in disturbance, elevation, and/or species showed greater differences. Based on dietary data, the larger frog species Mantella baroni consumed more and larger prey, and showed greater diversity in skin alkaloids than significantly smaller Mantella bernhardi. Additionally, frogs from the most pristine locality had the greatest number of alkaloids, whereas individuals from the most disturbed localities had the least. In a comparison of frog alkaloid profiles over a 10- to 14-yr period, alkaloid turnover, and thus presumably alkaloid-source arthropod turnover, was high in a disturbed locality and low in the pristine primary forest locality. We demonstrate that the nonlethal transcutaneous amphibian stimulator (TAS) is effective for harvesting alkaloids from poison frogs; future studies using this device could obtain larger sample sizes without harming local frog populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2219-2233
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2006


  • Alkaloid profiles
  • Allomones
  • Ant alkaloids
  • Chemical defense
  • Chemical ecology
  • Geographic variation
  • Habitat disturbance
  • Mantella
  • Poison frogs
  • Temporal variation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry


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