Effects of forest removal on amphibian migrations: implications for habitat and landscape connectivity.
Habitat loss is a leading cause of global amphibian declines. Forest removal is a particularly significant threat because an estimated 82% of amphibians rely on forests for part of their lives. Biphasic amphibians rely on suitable terrestrial habitat to support their post-metamorphic growth and survival and also to maintain appropriate habitat and landscape connectivity. We created 4 replicate, 16-ha experimental arrays in the southeastern USA to examine the effects of forest removal on migratory movements of adult biphasic amphibians. Each array contained four forest-harvesting treatments that included an unharvested control, a partially harvested stand, a clearcut with coarse woody debris retained, and a clearcut with coarse woody debris removed. Some amphibian species emigrated from wetlands in significantly greater numbers through forest controls compared with harvested treatments. Also, salamanders were generally more sensitive to forest removal than were frogs, with a significantly greater proportion of salamanders migrating through forested habitat compared to frogs. For several species, individuals were significantly more likely to avoid clearcuts when emigrating compared to immigrating. Individuals that emigrated into clearcut treatments were more likely to reverse direction and return to wetlands in some species. Synthesis and applications. Our study identifies one mechanism by which forest removal shapes the abundance and distribution of amphibians in terrestrial habitat. To promote the persistence of amphibian populations, conservation efforts should focus on preserving forest habitat adjacent to reproduction sites. Such measures are especially important where forest habitat connects local populations or where it links reproduction sites to other habitat features necessary for amphibian growth, survival, or overwintering.