Urbanization interferes with the use of amphibians as indicators of ecological integrity of wetlands.

Published online
01 Aug 2012
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Guzy, J. C. & McCoy, E. D. & Deyle, A. C. & Gonzalez, S. M. & Halstead, N. & Mushinsky, H. R.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
USA & Florida


Wetlands are ecologically and economically important ecosystems but are threatened globally by many forms of human disturbance. Understanding the responses of wetland species to human disturbance is essential for effective wetland management and conservation. We undertook a study to determine (i) whether anurans can be used effectively to assess the ecological integrity of wetlands affected by groundwater withdrawal and, if so, (ii) what effect increasing urbanization might have on the utility of anurans as wetland indicators. We monitored the intensity of anuran calls at 42 wetlands in south-western Florida throughout 2001-2002 and 2005-2009. We first validated the use of anurans to assess wetland integrity using a small group of wetlands by comparing anuran calling and subsequent tadpole development with an established index employing vegetation composition and structure. We then verified that the results could be expanded to a variety of sites throughout the region. Finally, we focused on urbanized wetlands to determine whether urbanization could interfere with the use of anurans to assess wetland integrity. We used PRESENCE to estimate occupancy and detection probabilities and to examine the relationship between occupancy and five covariates expected to influence individual species occurrence. We used FRAGSTATS to calculate the mean proximity index for urbanized wetlands, which assesses the size and distribution of land use types within a specified area. Our results showed that the group of species including oak toad Anaxyrus quercicus, southern cricket frog Acris gryllus, pinewoods treefrog Hyla femoralis, barking treefrog Hyla gratiosa, and little grass frog Pseudacris ocularis is a reliable indicator of wetland integrity. However, this same group of species, which is sensitive to wetland health, is selectively excluded from urbanized wetlands. Synthesis and applications. Although anurans are effective indicators of wetland health and complement vegetation surveys, the usefulness of this group for monitoring the ecological integrity of wetlands can be substantially reduced, or eliminated, as a consequence of urbanization. We urge for careful consideration of confounding factors in any studies examining the utility of indicator species.

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