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Recovering the Reptile Community after the Mine-Tailing Accident of Aznalcóllar (Southwestern Spain)


J. M. Pleguezuelos, email


Ecosystem restoration requires that habitat requirements of all species be considered. Among animal communities in Mediterranean ecosystems, reptiles, as ectothermic vertebrates, need refuges for avoidance of extreme environmental temperatures, concealment from predators, and oviposition sites. In 1998, a massive amount of tailings broke out of the holding pond of the Aznalcóllar mine (southwestern Spain) and polluted the Guadiamar river valley. After the accident, a soil- and vegetation restoration program began, and the Guadiamar Green Corridor was created to connect two huge natural areas, Doñana National Park and the Sierra Morena. Within this corridor, the reptile community remained dramatically impoverished, probably because of elimination of all natural refuges during the soil restoration program. To test this hypothesis, we set an array of artificial refuges (logs) in a large experimental plot. During the 5 years of the experiment (2002–2006), the area managed with artificial refuges exhibited a better and faster recovery of the reptile community in species richness and individual abundance than did the control area with no artificial refuges. Moreover, reptile colonization of the Guadiamar Green Corridor was transverse rather than lineal—that is, it did not act as a corridor for reptiles, at least in the first stages of colonization. This suggests that landscape restoration programs should not neglect refuge availability, a limiting resource for reptile species.