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Environmental watering triggers rapid frog breeding in temporary wetlands within a regulated river system

Abstract

The Murray–Darling basin is the most extensively regulated river system in Australia and delivery of environmental water is increasingly being used in its management. Due to their sensitivity to hydrological changes, frogs are often targets of environmental watering actions, and site-specific data on their habitat and water requirements are essential for achieving optimal ecological outcomes. I investigated the spatial and temporal response of frogs to the environmental watering of temporary wetlands in the lower River Murray region to determine if watering (timing, duration and quality) triggered a breeding response and provided opportunities for juvenile recruitment. Frog and tadpole surveys were conducted each month from December 2014 to April 2015 at watered temporary wetlands and permanent wetlands along on the River Murray in South Australia. All seven frog species known from the lower Murray valley bred opportunistically after deliberate flooding of temporary wetland sites. Breeding was immediate and was observed at all watered sites. Tadpole development was largely synchronous and rapid, with the majority of frogs metamorphosing 3 to 4 months after wetlands were inundated. The abundance and diversity of tadpoles and frogs was significantly greater in watered wetlands than in permanent wetlands. Wetlands required inundation for a minimum duration of 4 months over summer and autumn to allow sufficient time for tadpoles to complete development. Environmental watering of wetlands via pumping, whilst highly localised, can target key ecological assets in dry conditions, and may provide critical breeding opportunities and refugia for maintaining frog species and their ecological roles.

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Acknowledgements

This project was supported by the South Australian Murray–Darling Basin Natural Resources Management Board, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. Numerous people provided invaluable assistance in the field and support with the development of this project, notably R. Turner, C. Nickolai, K. Watters, L. Suitor and I. Wegener. K. Klop-Toker, D. Roberts and N. Mitchell are thanked for their valuable comments on this manuscript. Work was conducted under scientific research and wildlife ethics permits from the Government of South Australia, Department of Environment Water and Natural Resources.

Funding

This project was supported by the South Australian Murray–Darling Basin Natural Resources Management Board, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program (http://www.nrm.gov.au/).

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Correspondence to Emily P. Hoffmann.

Appendix

Appendix

See Tables 3 and 4.

Table 3 Mean abundances and SIMPER contributions to overall dissimilarities between hydroperiod categories for all frog species
Table 4 Mean abundances and SIMPER contributions (C %) to overall dissimilarities between geomorphic regions for all frog species

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Hoffmann, E.P. Environmental watering triggers rapid frog breeding in temporary wetlands within a regulated river system. Wetlands Ecol Manage 26, 1073–1087 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11273-018-9632-9

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Keywords

  • Frogs
  • Breeding
  • Environmental watering
  • Murray–Darling Basin
  • Temporary wetlands
  • Wetland management