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Keywords:

  • Ambystoma maculatum;
  • amphibians;
  • Bufo americanus;
  • habitat restoration;
  • metapopulations;
  • oviposition sites;
  • predator avoidance;
  • Rana sylvatica

Abstract

Pond-breeding amphibians have been characterized as having metapopulation structure, and a goal of many local restoration projects is to establish viable metapopulations. However, recent studies suggest that metapopulation organization is unlikely at the local level because of high dispersal rates between neighboring ponds. Although many amphibians avoid ovipositing in habitats that pose high predation risk to their offspring, the spatial scale of avoidance is poorly resolved for natural systems and could involve wholesale movements between ponds. To determine the scale of avoidance, we monitored annual habitat use by the Wood frog (Rana sylvatica), American toad (Bufo americanus), and Spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) at a restoration site in western North Carolina, U.S.A. Wood frogs consistently used most fish-free ponds, but rapidly curtailed use following fish invasions. American toads rarely used the same breeding site from year to year, and adults strongly avoided ovipositing in habitats with predatory Wood frog tadpoles. Spotted salamanders exhibited a predator avoidance response to fish that was weaker than the predator avoidance response of anurans. Our data indicate that the spatial scale of predator avoidance by ovipositing amphibians often exceeds that of an individual pond and that the focal species at this site are organized as patchy populations rather than as metapopulations. At local restoration sites, ponds that are placed in spatial arrays to create metapopulations may not accomplish their goal and may limit the extent to which ovipositing adults can express an adaptive antipredator behavior. We discuss an alternative design that is more likely to enhance the long-term persistence of local populations.