Eight steps to urban amphibian conservation: Framework to translate ecological knowledge to action

New research by Lee et al. demonstrates the utility of an eight-step framework to identify priority wetland habitats and movement corridors for urban amphibian conservation in cities. Author Nicole Kahal explains more in this blog post.

Amphibians are one of the most imperilled species assemblages with diversity and abundance declines reported globally. Considered a key indicator of ecological condition, amphibians face many challenges in the urban environment, such as habitat loss and fragmentation, direct mortality from road networks and built environments, and habitat degradation from pollutants and introduced predatory fish species. As cities adopt mandates to protect, maintain and restore urban biodiversity, the need to study urban ecology has grown.

Framework for conservation action

Clearly articulated, defensible and socially supported conservation action is necessary for amphibian conservation. However, amphibian conservation is difficult due to continued wetland and upland habitat loss, limited ecological information on amphibians, and complex and dynamic municipal decision making.

To better translate ecological knowledge into conservation action, we developed an eight-step framework based on established monitoring, analytical methods, and community engagement in a large urban centre. By working with planners, residents, and ecologists, we developed the following eight steps:

  1. Set goals
  2. Identify information needed
  3. Engage the public
  4. Monitor
  5. Model
  6. Identify priority habitat
  7. Identify connectivity areas and barriers
  8. Integrate into citywide planning processes, management and restoration plans, policies, and decision tools.
Framework table
Urban amphibian conservation framework steps

Application of framework in Calgary, Alberta, Canada

To illustrate the potential of the framework, we applied it in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. In Calgary, urbanization has reduced wetlands by 90% and prior to this study, ecological knowledge on amphibians was poor.

We ran a citizen science monitoring program and determined that, of the six species that historically occupied the City of Calgary, only three remained: boreal chorus frog, wood frog and western tiger salamander. Of these species, only boreal chorus frogs are commonly found at Calgary’s wetlands.

citizen scientists surveying an urban wetland in Calgary
Citizen scientists surveying an urban wetland for amphibians in Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Through the framework, we further identified core wetlands and movement pathways for amphibian species and identified barriers in the wetland network where construction or restoration measures could re-establish amphibians or increase their densities.

For example, areas identified as high valued habitat and with good connectivity were typically located on the outskirts of Calgary where there has been less development and fewer wetlands drained. This information can support city planning teams to both identify high value habitat for protection (which is often far more cost and time effective than complete restoration) and to achieve strategic planning objectives for citywide biodiversity connections.

Priority amphibian habitat (blue) and potential movement pathways for amphibians (green) based on the intersection of boreal chorus frog and wood frog high-quality habitat (a) and with government-owned (crown) land and those designated as parks (b) in Calgary, Alberta

Insights for conservation practitioners

While applied to amphibian conservation as a case study, this urban conservation framework can be used by any wildlife group. By following the stepwise approach and well-established methods, we were able to provide ecological information to decision-makers to guide policy, planning and management decisions related to the conservation of priority habitat and connectivity needed for a species survival.

boreal chorus frog
Priority amphibian habitat and movement pathways must be protected or restored to ensure amphibians, such as the boreal chorus frog pictured here, can persist in urban areas

Along the way, we identified insights that are broadly applicable to other conservation practitioners:

  • The ability to identify critical information gaps, document who makes decisions and show how information can be integrated into policy and planning were all key and interrelated steps.

  • The importance of early engagement of decision-makers cannot be overemphasized; by engaging the appropriate departments at the City of Calgary, we were able to identify useful ecological knowledge, in our case for amphibians, and identify existing plans and policies where amphibian biodiversity information could be incorporated, such as the Riparian Action Program Report and the Natural Area Management Plan.

Read the full article: “A framework to identify priority wetland habitats and movement corridors for urban amphibian conservation” in Issue 3:2 of Ecological Solutions and Evidence.

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