A co-development approach to conservation leads to informed habitat design and rapid establishment of amphibian communities.
Effective wildlife restoration is a critical requirement of many conservation actions. The outcome of conservation interventions can be optimized through knowledge of species' habitat requirements, but few studies consider the impact of using explicit evidence from dedicated local research to inform the design phase of habitat management. Furthermore, interventions administered externally from the top down, whilst simpler than those developed in discussion with multiple stakeholders including land managers (i.e. co-development), run the risk of failing to engage local people. In this study, we focus on interventions in the Scottish Highlands to improve the availability and suitability of breeding ponds for local amphibian assemblages. We collected and analysed data based on 129 ecological variables across 88 reference ponds to quantify the local habitat preferences. We used the findings from these analyses to inform the construction or restoration of 25 intervention ponds co-developed in partnership with stakeholders (landowners, foresters, citizen scientists and government agencies). Following the interventions, we monitored amphibian communities at these sites over 4 years. We assessed presence and abundance of all five native amphibians (the anurans Rana temporaria and Bufo bufo, and the salamanders Lissotriton helveticus, L. vulgaris and Triturus cristatus) using egg searching, dip-netting, torching and trapping. The new habitats were overall characterized by ecological conditions more favourable to amphibians than the reference ponds. We recorded a total of 51 colonization events. Within two breeding seasons after construction or restoration, the intervention ponds hosted the full complement of species, mirroring amphibian diversity patterns found in the local reference ponds. Our study shows that ecological research to quantify local habitat requirements and working with commercial landmanagers to ensure equitable benefits prior to designing conservation actions can promote rapid and efficient recovery of wildlife.