1. Recently habitat degradation, road construction and traffic have all increased with human populations, to the detriment of aquatic habitats and species. While numerous restoration programmes have been carried out, there is an urgent need to follow their success to better understand and compensate for the decline of amphibian populations. To this end, we followed the colonization success of an anuran community across multiple replacement ponds created to mitigate large-scale habitat disturbance.
2. Following construction of a highway in western France, a restoration project was initiated in 1999 and the success of restoration efforts was monitored. The amphibian communities of eight ponds were surveyed before they were destroyed. Replacement ponds were created according to precise edaphic criteria, consistent with the old pond characteristics and taking into account the amphibian species present in each. The presence of amphibian species was recorded every year during the breeding period for 4 years following pond creation.
3. Species richness initially declined following construction of the replacement ponds but generally returned to pre-construction levels. Species diversity followed the same pattern but took longer to reach the level of diversity recorded before construction. Pond surface area, depth and sun exposure were the most significant habitat characteristics explaining both amphibian species richness and diversity. Similarly, an increase in the number of vegetation strata was positively related to anuran species richness, indicating the need to maintain a heterogeneous landscape containing relatively large open wetland areas.
4. Synthesis and applications. We highlight the species-specific dynamics of the colonization process, including an increase in the number of replacement ponds inhabited over time by some species and, in some cases, an increase in population size. Our work suggests that successful replacement ponds can be designed around simple habitat features, providing clear benefits for a range of amphibian species, which will have positive cascading effects on local biodiversity. However, consideration must also be given to the terrestrial buffer zone when management strategies are being planned. Finally, our study offers insight into the successful establishment of anuran communities over a relatively short time in restored or replacement aquatic environments.