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Forest buffers are a primary tool used to protect wetland-dependent wildlife. Though implemented widely, buffer efficacy is untested for most amphibian species. Consequently, it remains unclear whether buffers are sufficient for maintaining amphibian populations and if so, how wide buffers should be. We present evidence from a six-year, landscape-scale experiment testing the impacts of clearcutting, buffer width, and hydroperiod on body size and condition and biomass of breeding adults for two amphibian species at 11 vernal pools in the northeastern United States. We randomly assigned treatments (i.e., reference, 100m buffer, 30m buffer) across pools, clearcut to create buffers, and captured all spotted salamanders and wood frogs. Clearcuts strongly and negatively impacted size, condition, and biomass, but wider buffers mitigated effect magnitude and duration. Among recaptured individuals, for example, 30m-treatment salamanders were predicted to be about 9.5 mm shorter than, while 100m-treatment salamanders did not differ in length from, reference-treatment salamanders. Similarly, among recaptured frogs, mean length in the 30m treatment was predicted to decrease by about 1 mm/year, while in the 100m and reference treatments, length was time-invariant. Some, but not all, metrics recovered with time. For example, female new-captured and recaptured salamanders were predicted, respectively and on average, to weigh 4.5 and 7 g less in the 30m versus reference treatment right after the cut. While recaptured-female mass was predicted to recover by 9.5 years post-cut, new-captured-female mass did not recover. Hydroperiod was an important mediator: in the 100m treatment, cutting predominately affected pools that were stressed hydrologically. Overall, salamanders and female frogs were impacted more than male frogs. Our results highlight the importance of individualized metrics like body size, which can reveal sublethal effects and illuminate mechanisms by which habitat disturbance impacts wildlife populations. Individualized metrics thus provide critical insights that complement species occurrence and abundance-based population assessments.
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Veysey Powell JS, Babbitt KJ (2015) Despite Buffers, Experimental Forest Clearcuts Impact Amphibian Body Size and Biomass. PLoS ONE 10(11): e0143505. https://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0143505
Copyright: © 2015 Veysey Powell, Babbitt.