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Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

Farm ponds as critical habitats for native amphibians

Ecological Communities and Water Quality Associated with Agricultural Farm Ponds in Southeastern Minnesota

Melinda G. Knutson, William B. Richardson, and Shawn E. Weick
USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center
2630 Fanta Reed Road
La Crosse, Wisconsin 54603

David M. Reineke
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse,
Department of Mathematics
1725 State Street
La Crosse, Wisconsin 54601

Jeffrey R. Parmelee
Simpson College
Biology Department
701 North C Street
Indianola, Iowa

Dan R. Sutherland
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse,
Department of Biology and River Studies Center
1725 State Street
La Crosse, Wisconsin 54601

We studied constructed farm ponds and natural wetlands in southeastern Minnesota during spring and summer 2000 and 2001. We collected amphibian and habitat data from 40 randomly selected ponds, 10 ponds in each of four surrounding land use classes: row crop agriculture, grazed grassland, nongrazed grassland, and natural wetlands. In this paper we describe the terrestrial and aquatic ecological communities we observed at farm ponds and describe the water quality habitat characteristics. We identified 10 species of amphibians at the ponds, including the tiger salamander (Ambystoma triginum), American toad (Bufo americanus), eastern gray treefrog (Hyla versicolor), chorus frog (Pseudacris triseriata), spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer), green frog (Rana clamitans), wood frog (Rana sylvatica), leopard frog (Rana pipiens), pickerel frog (Rana palustris), and the blue-spotted salamander (Ambystoma laterale). The blue-spotted salamander was identified from two larval specimens at one natural wetland. The American toad, eastern gray tree frog, and green frog were the most commonly observed species. There were no significant differences in amphibian species richness among the four classes of surrounding land use. To most efficiently sample amphibian larvae using dip nets, we found that a six-week sampling frame, centered on June (last week of May through the first week of July) sampled six species in the Driftless Area Ecoregion (American toad, chorus frog, spring peeper, green frog, leopard and pickerel frog). Two species (eastern gray treefrog and tiger salamander) were most efficiently sampled during July. Deformity rates were low (< 5% deformed individuals) at all ponds. The trematode parasite, Ribeiroia (linked to amphibian malformations elsewhere), was identified at 3 of 16 ponds examined for parasites in 2000 and 6 of 13 ponds examined in 2001. Of the 260 amphibians necropsied for parasites only 11 were considered to be malformed and five of these eleven harbored Ribeiroia. Ribeiroia was found in only northern leopard frogs and green frogs. Six species of snakes and two turtle species were observed at the ponds over the two years of the study. The common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) was the most frequently encountered reptile (18 ponds), followed by painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) (11 ponds). One hundred species of birds were observed at the ponds. The song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) was the most frequently observed bird species (40 ponds), followed by the red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) (34 ponds), common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) (30 ponds), and the American robin (Turdus migratorius) (25 ponds). Eighteen species of mammals were recorded, based on tracks at scent stations. The raccoon (Procyon lotor) was found at the most ponds (34 ponds), followed closely by the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) (33 ponds). Five species of fish were identified from the ponds, with brook stickleback (Culaea inconstans) the most frequently observed (6 ponds). A wide variety of invertebrate taxa were observed in the ponds. Midge larvae (Chironomidae), crawling water beetles (Haliplidae), and water boatmen (Corixidae) were the most common invertebrate taxa observed. Total nitrogen and turbidity tended to be higher at grazed and agricultural ponds vs. non-grazed and natural ponds. The majority of the land use surrounding the ponds is row crop agriculture and forests. Constructed agricultural farm ponds are providing breeding habitat for amphibians in the Driftless Area ecoregion and support a species assemblage comparable with natural wetlands. In addition, a wide range of invertebrates, reptiles, birds, and mammals are associated with constructed farm ponds.

Keywords: Farm pond, amphibian, reptile, bird, mammal, land use, agriculture, habitat

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