Local and landscape characteristics shape amphibian communities across production landscapes in the Western Ghats.

Published online
23 Dec 2021
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Ecological Solutions and Evidence

Vishnupriya Sankararaman & Shashank Dalvi & Miller, D. A. W. & Karanth, K. K.
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Global tropical forests have been modified and fragmented by commodity agroforests, leading to significant alterations in ecological communities. Nevertheless, these production landscapes offer secondary habitats that support and sustain local biodiversity. In this study, we assess community level and species-specific responses of amphibians to land management in areca, coffee and rubber, three of the largest commodity agroforests in the Western Ghats. A total of 106 agroforests across a 30,000-km2 landscape were surveyed for amphibians using a combination of visual and auditory encounter surveys. We used a Bayesian multi-species occupancy modelling framework to examine patterns of species richness, beta diversity, dominance structure and individual species occupancies. The influence of biogeographic variables such as elevation and latitude as well as microhabitat availability of streams, ponds and unpaved plantation roads was tested on amphibian species occupancy. Coffee agroforests had the highest species richness and lowest dominance when compared to areca and rubber. Beta diversity was highest in areca for within agroforest measures. Compared across agroforests, coffee had highest beta diversity with areca and rubber. Both elevation and latitude showed an overall positive association with amphibian occupancy, although species-specific responses varied considerably. Microhabitat availability was one of the strongest predictors of amphibian occupancy, with mean community response being positive with presence of water bodies and roads. Pond presence increased species richness per site by 34.7% (species-specific responses in occupancy ranged from -2.7% to 327%). Stream presence alone did not change species richness but species-specific response ranged from -59% to 273%. Presence of plantation roads also increased species richness by 21.5% (species-specific response ranged from -82% to 656%). Being unpaved with little vehicular traffic, plantation roads seem to provide additional habitats for amphibians. Presence of all three microhabitats at a site increased species richness by 75%. Our study highlights the importance of land management strategies that maintain diverse native canopy and freshwater bodies and other microhabitats in sustaining amphibian fauna. Market-driven land-use change from coffee to other agroforest types will have detrimental effects on amphibian communities and their long-term sustainability in the Western Ghats.

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