Influence of micrclimate and land use on the suitability of terrestrial habitats for amphibians

Project leadership: Dr. Annegret Grimm-Seyfarth 
Staff responsible: Dr. Annegret Grimm-Seyfarth, Linda Mazoschek, Wiebke Harms
Project duration: since 2018
Cooperation partners: Project "Lebendige Luppe"; Mathias Scholz UNB Stadt Leipzig; UNB Leipziger Land

Project description

Amphibians are an essential part of an ecosystem as they are endemic to certain ecosystems and are considered good indicators of overall ecosystem health. With the global biodiversity and ecosystem loss, amphibians are at a greater risk with 40% of described species threatened with extinction. According to IUCN, the primary cause for amphibian decline is habitat loss. We particularly figured habitat drying as a strong driver of population decline, as they are essential for amphibian reproduction. Their extensive loss of habitat will eventually lead to local extinctions. On the contrary, the returning beaver populations have built dams and ponds in central Saxony creating habitats. We hypothesise that these habitats serve as new breeding grounds for the endangered amphibian species of the region. However, another stressor we observe is the increasing number of consecutive dry summers, likely affecting their activity and ability to feed.

In our project, we therefore monitor different wetland in Saxony, focussing on floodplain systems and beaver ponds. We monitor amphibians during their reproductive period using systematic calling records, minnow traps and fishing nets. We use these data to determine the species-specific habitat preferences. For example, we examine whether or not a temporary water inlet, vegetation cover or age of the ponds affect species occurrence and their diversity in breeding habitats. We also aim to identify synergies between the amphibians and beavers by studying the species diversity and habitat quality.

In addition to aquatic monitoring, we are trying to investigate the terrestrial habitat use, currently focussing on pond, mountain and great crested newts. We are using cover boards, visual encounter surveys and a newt detection dog to find the individuals and their retreats on land. Currently, the detection dog is the only valuable method to get data about terrestrial life stages.

Pond newt
Detection dog Zammy alerting at a pond newt.
Great crested newt
Detection dog Zammy alerting at a great crested newt.

The overall aim of this project is to understand the species' habitat preferences in both aquatic and terrestrial life stages. The second important point is to understand habitat and climatic changes, which will interact with each other. These two points will help building a biophysical model about how the species can cope with changing conditions and whether beaver ponds will be an alternative to (partly artificially flooded) floodplain habitats without beavers. Last, we will give conservation recommendations about the aquatic and terrestrial habitats to prevent our amphibians from extinction.