A Quantitative Assessment of the Conservation Benefits of the Wetlands Reserve Program to Amphibians


Address correspondence to J. H. Waddle, email waddleh@usgs.gov


The Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV) originally consisted of nearly contiguous bottomland hardwood (BLH) forest encompassing approximately 10 million hectares. Currently, only 20–25% of the historical BLH forests remain in small patches fragmented by agricultural lands. The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) was established to restore and protect the functions and values of wetlands in agricultural landscapes. To assess the potential benefit of WRP restoration to amphibians, we surveyed 30 randomly selected WRP sites and 20 nearby agricultural sites in the Mississippi Delta. We made repeat visits to each site from May to August 2008 and performed both visual encounter and vocalization surveys. We analyzed the encounter history data for 11 anuran species using a Bayesian hierarchical occupancy model that estimated detection probability and probability of occurrence simultaneously for each species. Nine of the 11 species had higher probabilities of occurrence at WRP sites compared to agriculture. Derived estimates of species richness were also higher for WRP sites. Five anuran species were significantly more likely to occur in WRP than in agriculture, four of which were among the most aquatic species. It appears that the restoration of a more permanent hydrology at the WRP sites may be the primary reason for this result. Although amphibians represent only one group of wildlife species, they are useful for evaluating restoration benefits for wildlife because of their intermediate trophic position. The methods used in this study to evaluate the benefit of restoration could be used in other locations and with other groups of indicator species.