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Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

Farm ponds as critical habitats for native amphibians

Amphibian Reproductive Success as an Indicator of Habitat Quality in Agricultural Farm Ponds

Melinda G. Knutson and William B. Richardson
U.S. Geological Survey
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

Brian R. Gray
U.S. Geological Survey
Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

Jeffrey R. Parmelee
Simpson College
Biology Department
701 North C Street
Indianola, Iowa 50125

Shawn E. Weick
U.S. Geological Survey
Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

We studied small, constructed farm ponds in southeastern Minnesota to assess their value as amphibian breeding sites. Our study examined habitat factors associated with amphibian reproduction at two spatial scales: the pond and the landscape surrounding the pond. We found that small farm ponds in southeastern Minnesota support reproduction for at least seven species of amphibians. Indices of reproductive success were most closely associated with pond variables relative to landscape scale variables. We did not find support for the idea that amphibian communities in ponds surrounded by row crops exhibit reduced reproductive success relative to natural or nongrazed ponds. Ponds used for watering of cattle had consistently elevated concentrations of nitrogen, higher turbidity and possibly reduced amphibian reproductive success. Reproductive success was reduced in ponds with elevated nitrogen concentration, dense emergent vegetation, and those containing fish. Individual amphibian species varied in the habitat factors that were associated with higher reproductive success. In southeastern Minnesota, natural wetlands are rare, due to both glacial history and agricultural practices. Agricultural practices and disturbance may interact to reduce habitat quality from a theoretical optimum, but the ponds are apparently satisfactory for amphibian reproduction and comparable in this regard with natural wetlands in the region. Human-created ponds, designed to serve the needs of farmers, can be managed to provide valuable aquatic breeding habitat for amphibians in this region.

Keywords: agriculture, amphibian, aquatic predators, aquatic vegetation, farm pond, fish, grazing, habitat, landscape, morphometry, nitrogen pond design, pond management, water quality

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