Biological Criteria for Buffer Zones around Wetlands and Riparian Habitats for Amphibians and Reptiles


Terrestrial habitats surrounding wetlands are critical to the management of natural resources. Although the protection of water resources from human activities such as agriculture, silviculture, and urban development is obvious, it is also apparent that terrestrial areas surrounding wetlands are core habitats for many semiaquatic species that depend on mesic ecotones to complete their life cycle. For purposes of conservation and management, it is important to define core habitats used by local breeding populations surrounding wetlands. Our objective was to provide an estimate of the biologically relevant size of core habitats surrounding wetlands for amphibians and reptiles. We summarize data from the literature on the use of terrestrial habitats by amphibians and reptiles associated with wetlands (19 frog and 13 salamander species representing 1363 individuals; 5 snake and 28 turtle species representing more than 2245 individuals). Core terrestrial habitat ranged from 159 to 290 m for amphibians and from 127 to 289 m for reptiles from the edge of the aquatic site. Data from these studies also indicated the importance of terrestrial habitats for feeding, overwintering, and nesting, and, thus, the biological interdependence between aquatic and terrestrial habitats that is essential for the persistence of populations. The minimum and maximum values for core habitats, depending on the level of protection needed, can be used to set biologically meaningful buffers for wetland and riparian habitats. These results indicate that large areas of terrestrial habitat surrounding wetlands are critical for maintaining biodiversity. Criterios Biológicos para Zonas de Amortiguamiento Alrededor de Hábitats de Humedales y Riparios para Anfibios y Reptiles Resumen: Los hábitats terrestres que rodean humedales son críticos para el manejo de recursos naturales. Aunque la protección de recursos acuáticos contra actividades humanas como agricultura, silvicultura y desarrollo urbano es obvia, también es aparente que las áreas terrestres que rodean a humedales son hábitat núcleo para muchas especies semiacuáticas que dependen de los ecotonos mésicos para completar sus ciclos de vida. Para propósitos de conservación y manejo, es importante definir los hábitats núcleo utilizados por las poblaciones reproductivas locales alrededor de humedales. Nuestro objetivo fue proporcionar una estimación del tamaño biológicamente relevante de los hábitats núcleo alrededor de humedales para anfibios y reptiles. Resumimos datos de la literatura sobre el uso de hábitats terrestres por anfibios y reptiles asociados con humedales (19 especies de ranas y 13 de salamandras, representando a 1363 individuos; 5 especies de serpientes y 28 de tortugas representando a más de 2245 individuos). Los hábitats núcleo terrestres variaron de 159 a 290 m para anfibios y de 127 a 289 para reptiles desde el borde del sitio acuático. Datos de estos estudios también indicaron la importancia de los hábitats terrestres para alimentación, hibernación y anidación, y, por lo tanto, que la interdependencia biológica entre hábitats acuáticos y terrestres es esencial para la persistencia de poblaciones. Dependiendo del nivel de protección requerida, se pueden utilizar los valores mínimos y máximos de hábitats núcleo para definir amortiguamientos biológicamente significativos para hábitats de humedales y riparios. Estos resultados indican que extensas áreas de hábitats terrestres que rodean humedales son críticas para el mantenimiento de la biodiversidad. Paper submitted November 24, 2002; revised manuscript accepted January 28, 2003. 1220 Buffer Zones for Wetlands and Riparian Habitats Semlitsch & Bodie Conservation Biology Volume 17, No. 5, October 2003 Introduction Terrestrial habitats surrounding wetlands are critical for the management of water and wildlife resources. It is well established that these terrestrial habitats are the sites of physical and chemical filtration processes that protect water resources (e.g., drinking water, fisheries) from siltation, chemical pollution, and increases in water temperature caused by human activities such as agriculture, silviculture, and urban development (e.g., Lowrance et al. 1984; Forsythe & Roelle 1990). It is generally acknowledged that terrestrial buffers or riparian strips 30–60 m wide will effectively protect water resources (e.g., Lee & Samuel 1976; Phillips 1989; Hartman & Scrivener 1990; Davies & Nelson 1994; Brosofske et al. 1997). However, terrestrial habitats surrounding wetlands are important to more than just the protection of water resources. They are also essential to the conservation and management of semiaquatic species. In the last few years, a number of studies have documented the use of terrestrial habitats adjacent to wetlands by a broad range of taxa, including mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians ( e.g., Rudolph & Dickson 1990; McComb et al. 1993; Darveau et al. 1995; Spackman & Hughes 1995; Hodges & Krementz 1996; Semlitsch 1998; Bodie 2001; Darveau et al. 2001 ). These studies have shown the close dependence of semiaquatic species, such as amphibians and reptiles, on terrestrial habitats for critical life-history functions. For example, amphibians, such as frogs and salamanders, breed and lay eggs in wetlands during short breeding seasons lasting only a few days or weeks and during the remainder of the year emigrate to terrestrial habitats to forage and overwinter (e.g., Madison 1997; Richter et al. 2001). Reptiles, such as turtles and snakes, often live and forage in aquatic habitats most of the year but emigrate to upland habitats to nest or overwinter (e.g., Gibbons et al. 1977; Semlitsch et al. 1988; Burke & Gibbons 1995; Bodie 2001). The biological importance of these habitats in maintaining biodiversity is obvious, yet criteria by which to define habitats and regulations to protect them are ambiguous or lacking (Semlitsch & Bodie 1998; Semlitsch & Jensen 2001). More importantly, a serious gap is created in biodiversity protection when regulations or ordinances, especially those of local or state governments, have been set based on criteria to protect water resources alone, without considering habitats critical to wildlife species. Further, the aquatic and terrestrial habitats needed to carry out life-history functions are essential and are defined here as “core habitats.” No summaries of habitat use by amphibians and reptiles exist to estimate the biologically relevant size of core habitats surrounding wetlands that are needed to protect biodiversity. For conservation and management, it is important to define and distinguish core habitats used by local breeding populations surrounding wetlands. For example, adult frogs, salamanders, and turtles are generally philopatric to individual wetlands and migrate annually between aquatic and terrestrial habitats to forage, reproduce, and overwinter ( e.g., Burke & Gibbons 1995; Semlitsch 1998). The amount of terrestrial habitats used during migrations to and from wetlands and for foraging defines the terrestrial core habitat of a population. This aggregation of breeding adults constitutes a local population centered on a single wetland or wetland complex. Local populations are connected by dispersal and are part of a larger metapopulation, which extends across the landscape (Pulliam 1988; Marsh & Trenham 2001). Annual migrations centered on a single wetland or wetland complex are biologically different than dispersal to new breeding sites. It is thought that dispersal among populations is achieved primarily by juveniles for amphibians ( e.g., Gill 1978; Breden 1987; Berven & Grudzien 1990) or by males for turtles (e.g., Morreale et al. 1984). Dispersal by juvenile amphibians tends to be unidirectional and longer in distance than the annual migratory movements of breeding adults ( e.g., Breden 1987; Seburn et al. 1997 ). Thus, habitats adjacent to wetlands can serve as stopping points and corridors for dispersal to other nearby wetlands. Ultimately, conservation and management plans must consider both local and landscape dynamics (Semlitsch 2000), but core habitats for local populations need to be defined before issues of connectivity at the metapopulation level are considered.

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@inproceedings{Semlitsch2003BiologicalCF, title={Biological Criteria for Buffer Zones around Wetlands and Riparian Habitats for Amphibians and Reptiles}, author={Raymond D. Semlitsch and RUSSELL BODIE}, year={2003} }