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Herpetofauna occupancy and community composition along a tidal swamp salinity gradient

January 24, 2020

Occupancy patterns of herpetofauna in most tidal freshwater swamps are unknown. Tidal freshwater swamps currently face multiple threats, including salinization, which can influence their associated plant and animal communities. The impacts of salinization to herpetofauna communities in tidal freshwater swamps have not been assessed. To improve predictions regarding these herpetofauna, we conducted surveys in tidal freshwater swamps of the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge located in South Carolina, USA, from March to June, 2016 and 2017, using a variety of methods. Goals included inventorying species, determining communities, examining microhabitat associations, and modeling occupancy to predict the impacts of salinity changes. We detected 8 species of amphibians and 12 species of reptiles in our surveys. Community analyses failed to detect patterns related to measured environmental variables. Species richness and diversity declined along the salinity gradient, but the observed patterns did not match our predictions and may instead be related to site-level heterogeneity. Microhabitat associations were detected for two amphibian species via occupancy analyses. Occupancy and regression analyses indicated soil salinity may be a factor affecting nine species’ occurrences. Amphibian detections may be affected by water depth, pH values, and weather conditions. These results expand our understanding of herpetofauna within an understudied, and threatened, wetland type.