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From satellites to frogs: Quantifying ecohydrological change, drought mitigation, and population demography in desert meadows

November 12, 2020

Increasing frequency and severity of droughts have motivated natural resource managers to mitigate harmful ecological and hydrological effects of drought, but drought mitigation is an emerging science and evaluating its effectiveness is difficult. We examined ecohydrological responses of drought mitigation actions aimed at conserving populations of the Columbia spotted frog (Rana luteiventris) in a semi-arid valley in Nevada, USA. Abundance of this rare frog had declined precipitously after multiple droughts. Mitigation included excavating ponds to increase available surface water and installing earthen dams to raise water tables. We assessed responses of riparian vegetation to mitigation using a 30-year time series of satellite-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and gridded weather data. We then analyzed a 23-year mark-recapture dataset to evaluate the effects of drought mitigation and NDVI on the probability of frog survival and rates of recruitment. After accounting for interannual precipitation variability, we found that NDVI increased significantly from before to after drought mitigation, suggesting that mitigation influenced the hydrology and vegetation of the meadows. Frog survival increased with NDVI, but mitigation had a stronger effect than NDVI suggesting that excavated mitigation ponds were particularly important for frog survival during drought. In contrast, frog recruitment was associated with NDVI more than mitigation, but only in meadows where NDVI was dependent on precipitation. At meadows with available groundwater, recruitment was associated with mitigation ponds. These findings suggest that mitigation ponds are critical for juvenile frogs to recruit into the adult population, but recruitment can also be increased by raising water tables in meadows lacking groundwater sources. Lagged recruitment (i.e., effects on larvae and juveniles) was negatively associated with NDVI. This study illustrates the ecohydrological complexity of drought mitigation and demonstrates novel ways to assess the effectiveness of drought mitigation using time series of readily available satellite imagery and organismal data.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title From satellites to frogs: Quantifying ecohydrological change, drought mitigation, and population demography in desert meadows
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.143632
Authors David Pilliod, Mark B. Hausner, Rick D. Scherer
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Science of the Total Environment
Index ID 70217153
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center