Loss and modification of habitat

By: , and 
Edited by: John W. Wilkinson and Harold Heatwole


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Amphibians live in a wide variety of habitats around the world, many of which have been modified or destroyed by human activities. Most species have unique life history characteristics adapted to specific climates, habitats (e.g., lentic, lotic, terrestrial, arboreal, fossorial, amphibious), and local conditions that provide suitable areas for reproduction, development and growth, shelter from environmental extremes, and predation, as well as connectivity to other populations or habitats. Although some species are entirely aquatic or terrestrial, most amphibians, as their name implies, lead a dual life and require a mosaic of habitats in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. With over 6 billion people on Earth, most species are now persisting in habitats that have been directly or indirectly influenced by human activities. Some species have disappeared where their habitats have been completely destroyed, reduced, or rendered unsuitable. Habitat loss and degradation are widely considered by most researchers as the most important causes of amphibian population decline globally (Barinaga 1990; Wake and Morowitz 1991; Alford and Richards 1999). In this chapter, a background on the diverse habitat requirements of amphibians is provided, followed by a discussion of the effects of urbanization, agriculture, livestock grazing, timber production and harvesting, fire and hazardous fuel management, and roads on amphibians and their habitats. Also briefly discussed is the influence on amphibian habitats of natural disturbances, such as extreme weather events and climate change, given the potential for human activities to impact climate in the longer term. For amphibians in general, microhabitats are of greater importance than for other vertebrates. As ectotherms with a skin that is permeable to water and with naked gelatinous eggs, amphibians are physiologically constrained to be active during environmental conditions that provide appropriate body temperatures and adequate water balance (Thorson and Svihla 1943; Brattstrom 1963; Tracy 1976). Hence, individuals require and seek specific microhabitats that maintain their preferred body temperature while at the same time reducing water loss or allowing individuals to re-hydrate. Amphibians also possess relatively few physical attributes that protect them from predators. Although they may avoid predators behaviourally or deter them by skin toxins, amphibians lack defensive shells or hardened cuticles, do not have protective teeth or claws, and most are insufficiently fast to escape predators. Hence, they are relatively dependent on sites that conceal or protect them from predation. Most amphibians also differ significantly from other vertebrates in possessing a complex two-phase life cycle: the pre-metamorphic larval (tadpole) stage and the post-metamorphic juvenile and adult stage (Wilbur 1980, 1984). Most amphibian species have two distinct econes (Heatwole 1989), each with different habitat requirements, the larvae being aquatic and the post-metamorphic animals more terrestrial. The habitats required by the two phases can differ greatly, but both are essential to the survival of a species. However, amphibian diversity is great and exceptions to this general pattern exist. For example, some species have direct development without going through a larval stage and are fully terrestrial, whereas the larvae of other species can reach sexual maturity without going through metamorphosis (i.e., neoteny) and are fully aquatic.

Additional publication details

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Loss and modification of habitat
Year Published 2012
Language English
Publisher Surrey Beatty
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Title Conservation and decline of amphibians: ecological aspects, effect of humans, and management
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N