Disentangling the role that multiple interacting factors have on species responses to shifting climate poses a significant challenge. However, our ability to do so is of utmost importance to predict the effects of climate change on species distributions. We examined how populations of three species of wetland-breeding amphibians, which varied in life history requirements, responded to a six-year period of extremely variable precipitation. This interval was punctuated by both extensive drought and heavy precipitation and flooding, providing a natural experiment to measure community responses to environmental perturbations. We estimated occurrence dynamics using a discrete hidden Markov modeling approach that incorporated information regarding habitat state and predator-prey interactions. This approach allowed us to measure how metapopulation dynamics of each amphibian species was affected by interactions among weather, wetland hydroperiod, and co-occurrence with fish predators. The pig frog, a generalist, proved most resistant to perturbations, with both colonization and persistence being unaffected by seasonal variation in precipitation or co-occurrence with fishes. The ornate chorus frog, an ephemeral wetland specialist, responded positively to periods of drought owing to increased persistence and colonization rates during periods of low-rainfall. Low probabilities of occurrence of the ornate chorus frog in long-duration wetlands were driven by interactions with predators due to low colonization rates when fishes were present. The mole salamander was most sensitive to shifts in water availability. In our study area, this species never occurred in short-duration wetlands and persistence probabilities decreased during periods of drought. At the same time, negative effects occurred with extreme precipitation because flooding facilitated colonization of fishes to isolated wetlands and mole salamanders did not colonize wetlands once fishes were present. We demonstrate that the effects of changes in water availability depend on interactions with predators and wetland type and are influenced by the life history of each of our species. The dynamic species occurrence modeling approach we used offers promise for other systems when the goal is to disentangle the complex interactions that determine species responses to environmental variability.
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