Drying microclimates threaten persistence of natural and translocated populations of threatened frogs

Date: 27, Oct, 2020
Author(s):   Hoffmann, E.P., Williams, K., Hipsey, M.R., Mitchell, N.J.
Publisher: Biodiversity and conservation

Defining species habitat requirements is essential for effective conservation management through revealing agents of population decline and identifying critical habitat for conservation actions, such as translocations. Here we studied the habitat-associations of two threatened terrestrial-breeding frog species from southwestern Australia, Geocrinia alba and Geocrinia vitellina, to investigate if fine-scale habitat variables explain why populations occur in discrete patches, why G. alba is declining, and why translocation attempts have had mixed outcomes. We compared habitat variables at sites where the species are present, to variables at immediately adjacent sites where frogs are absent, and at sites where G. alba is locally extinct. Dry season soil moisture was the most important predictor of frog abundance for both species, and explained why G. alba had become extinct from some areas. Sites where G. alba were present were also positively associated with moss cover, and negatively with bare ground and soil conductivity. Modelling frog abundance based exclusively on dry season soil moisture predicted recent translocation successes with high accuracy. Hence, considering dry season soil moisture when selecting future translocation sites should increase the probability of population establishment. We propose that a regional drying trend is the most likely cause for G. alba declines and that both species are at risk of further habitat and range contraction due to further projected regional declines in rainfall and groundwater levels. More broadly, our study highlights that conservation areas in drying climates may not provide adequate protection and may require interventions to preserve critical habitat.