Amphibian population responses to mitigation: relative importance of wetland age and design
Wetland creation is a common practice to mitigate for the loss of natural wetlands. However, there is still uncertainty about how effectively created wetlands replace habitat provided by natural wetlands. This uncertainty is due in part because post-construction monitoring of biological communities, and vertebrates especially, is rare and typically short-term (< 5 years). We estimated occupancy of 4 amphibian species in 8 created mitigation wetlands, 7 impacted wetlands, and 7 reference wetlands in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in Wyoming, USA. Mitigation wetlands were created to replace wetland habitat that was lost during road construction and ranged in age from 1 to 10 years when sampled. Impacted wetlands were natural wetlands partially filled by road construction and were adjacent to a highway. We sampled for amphibian larvae during 6 summers from 2013 to 2020 and used multi-species occupancy models that estimated detection and occupancy of each of 4 amphibian species to determine how amphibian responses changed over time, especially in mitigation wetlands. Occupancy did not differ between impacted and reference wetlands for any of the 4 amphibian species. Western Toads (Anaxyrus boreas) were most common (although briefly) in created wetlands, and occupancy of Columbia Spotted Frogs (Rana luteiventris), Western Tiger Salamanders (Ambystoma mavortium), and Boreal Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris maculata) was lower in created wetlands than in impacted or reference wetlands. Wetland area was positively associated with occupancy for all 4 species and wetland vegetation cover was positively associated with Boreal Chorus Frog and Columbia Spotted Frog occupancy; these results emphasize the importance of design characteristics when planning mitigation wetlands. The link between wetland age and occupancy was complex and included threshold and quadratic relationships for three of the four species, but only Boreal Chorus Frog occupancy was still increasing slowly at the end of our study. Our results indicate created wetlands did not attain the suitability of impacted and natural wetlands for local amphibians, even several years after construction. The complicated relationships between wetland age and species-specific occupancy illustrate the importance of long-term monitoring in describing population responses to the construction of wetlands as mitigation for wetland loss.