The introduction of three cryptic tree frog species in the Dutch coastal dunes challenges conservation paradigms
Invasive species are considered one of the main drivers of the sixth mass extinction. Conservation solutions depend on whether a species is also indigenous to the country it invades (i.e., beyond its native range). In the case of invasive cryptic species, genetic tools are required to establish their identity. We illustrate these issues with the human-mediated colonization of the Dutch coastal dunes by Hyla tree frogs. Although previously assumed to concern the indigenous common tree frog H. arborea, European tree frogs comprise a complex of allopatric cryptic species, meaning the taxonomic identity of introduced Dutch populations warrants investigation. We sequence mtDNA for 164 individuals from native and introduced populations across the Netherlands and compare our dataset with hundreds of Hyla haplotypes previously barcoded in the Western Palearctic. Two of the dune populations carry an mtDNA haplotype of the native species H. arborea that occurs naturally elsewhere in the Netherlands. In contrast, mtDNA assigned to the eastern tree frog H. orientalis was detected in all three other dune populations. In one of these populations mtDNA of the Italian tree frog H. intermedia was also found. Not one, but three species of tree frogs have thus been introduced to the Dutch coastal dunes, only one of them being native to the Netherlands. This situation causes a conservation conundrum as some introduced populations are lawfully protected but could pose a threat to local biodiversity. Regarding the ‘true’ exotic tree frog species, all conservation options should be considered.