, Volume 11, Issue 12, pp 2143-2165

Modeling spatial distribution of amphibian populations: a GIS approach based on habitat matrix permeability

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Predictions of occurrence of two amphibian species, the common toad and the alpine newt, were made using information on land use surrounding breeding ponds. A geographical information system (GIS) was used to compile a landuse map, from which permeability estimates (friction) were derived. Potential migration zones based on friction and maximum migration distance were then modeled. Contacts between several migration zones suggest the potential for migration between ponds by adult individuals. The ability of the migration zones to enhance predictions of species occurrence was tested using generalized additive models (GAMs), and several landscape variables were selected as determinants of amphibian presence. The area of a migration zone and the number of ponds within that zone were positively related to both toad and newt presence, suggesting the importance of buffer habitats around each pond in amphibian conservation. Toad presence declined with cultivated field area and newt presence declined with vineyard area, suggesting the negative effect of agricultural activity on amphibians. The friction-based modeling approach improved the prediction of toad presence when compared to a more classical analysis of habitat composition within a circular zone centered on the focal pond. Prediction of newt presence was, however, less accurate than prediction of toad presence. Despite its exploratory nature and the subjectivity of permeability estimates, this study shows the usefulness of GIS in the functional analysis of a landscape, with potential applications in biological conservation. It also highlights the need for improving our knowledge of habitat use by animals.