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Ecol Appl. 2011 Jun;21(4):1283-95.

Clear-cutting affects habitat connectivity for a forest amphibian by decreasing permeability to juvenile movements.

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University of Maine, Department of Wildlife Ecology, 5755 Nutting Hall, Orono, Maine 04469, USA.


Conservation of forest amphibians is dependent on finding the right balance between management for timber production and meeting species' habitat requirements. For many pond-breeding amphibians, successful dispersal of the juvenile stage is essential for long-term population persistence. We investigated the influence of timber-harvesting practices on the movements of juvenile wood frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus). We used a chronosequence of stands produced by clear-cutting to evaluate how stand age affects habitat permeability to movements. We conducted experimental releases of juveniles in 2008 (n = 350) and 2009 (n = 528) in unidirectional runways in four treatments: mature forest, recent clearcut, 11-year-old, and 20-year-old regeneration. The runways were 50 x 2.5-m enclosures extending into each treatment, perpendicular to a distinct edge, with four tracking stations at 10, 20, 30, and 40 m from the edge. We recorded the number of animals reaching each tracking station, and the proportion of animals changing their direction of movement at each distance. We found that the mature forest was 3.1 and 3.7 times more permeable than the 11-year-old regeneration and the recent clearcut, respectively. Animals actively avoided open-canopy habitats and sharp edges; significantly more animals returned toward the closed-canopy forest at 0 m and 10 m in the less permeable treatments. There were no significant differences in habitat permeability between the mature forest and the 20-year-old regeneration. Our study is the first to directly assess habitat permeability to juvenile amphibian movement in relation to various forestry practices. We argue that habitat permeability at this scale is largely driven by the behavior of animals in relation to habitat disturbance and that caution needs to be used when using spatial modeling and expert-derived permeability values to assess connectivity of amphibian populations. The effects of clear-cutting on the migratory success of juvenile L. sylvaticus are long-lasting. Forestry practices that involve canopy removal and conversion of natural forest to conifer plantations may affect regional population viability by hindering successful dispersal.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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