Geographic and seasonal variation in alkaloid-based chemical defenses of Dendrobates pumilio from Bocas del Toro, Panama

J Chem Ecol. 2006 Apr;32(4):795-814. doi: 10.1007/s10886-006-9034-y. Epub 2006 May 5.


Poison frogs contain an alkaloid-based chemical defense that is derived from a diet of certain alkaloid-containing arthropods, which include mites, ants, beetles, and millipedes. Variation in population-level alkaloid profiles among species has been documented, and more than 800 different alkaloids have been identified. In the present study, we examine individual alkaloid variation in the dendrobatid poison frog Dendrobates pumilio among seven populations and between two seasons on Isla Bastimentos, located in the Bocas del Toro archipelago of Panama. Alkaloid profiles vary among populations and between seasons, illustrating that chemical defense in this species can vary on a small spatial and temporal scale. Alkaloid variation among populations is marginally correlated with geographic distance, and close populations have profiles more similar to each other than to distant populations. Individuals within populations also vary in alkaloid profiles. Differences are attributed to both spatial and temporal variations in the availability of alkaloid-containing arthropods. Many of the alkaloids present in the skin of D. pumilio appear likely to be of ant origin, supporting the importance of myrmecophagy in chemical defense among poison frogs. However, a variety of frog skin alkaloids was recently detected in mites, suggesting that mites may also play an important role in chemical defense.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / chemistry*
  • Alkaloids / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Ants
  • Anura / metabolism*
  • Diet
  • Geography
  • Mites
  • Panama
  • Poisons / chemistry*
  • Poisons / metabolism
  • Seasons
  • Skin / chemistry


  • Alkaloids
  • Poisons