In riparian ecosystems, reptiles and amphibians are good indicators of environmental conditions. Herpetofauna have been linked to specific microhabitat characteristics, microclimates, and water resources in riparian forests. My objective was to relate herpetofauna abundance to changes in riparian habitat along the Virgin River caused by the Tamarix biological control agent, Diorhabda carinulata, and riparian restoration.
During 2013 and 2014, vegetation and herpetofauna were monitored at 21 riparian locations along the Virgin River via trapping and visual encounter surveys. Study sites were divided into four stand types based on density and percent cover of dominant trees (Tamarix, Prosopis, Populus, and Salix) and presence of restoration activities: Tam, Tam-Pros, Tam-Pop/Sal, and Restored Tam-Pop/Sal. Restoration activities consisted of mechanical removal of non-native trees, transplanting native trees, and introduction of water flow. All sites were affected by biological control. I predicted that herpetofauna abundance would vary between stand types and that herpetofauna abundance would be greatest in Restored Tam-Pop/Sal sites due to increased habitat openness and variation following restoration efforts.
Results from trapping indicated that Restored Tam-Pop/Sal sites had three times more total lizard and eight times more Sceloporus uniformis captures than other stand types. Anaxyrus woodhousii abundance was greatest in Tam-Pop/Sal and Restored Tam-Pop/Sal sites. Visual encounter surveys indicated that herpetofauna abundance was greatest in the Restored Tam-Pop/Sal site compared to the adjacent Unrestored Tam-Pop/Sal site. Habitat variables were reduced to six components using a principle component analysis and significant differences were detected among stand types. Restored Tam-Pop/Sal sites were most similar to Tam-Pop/Sal sites. S. uniformis were positively associated with large woody debris and high densities of Populus, Salix, and large diameter Prosopis.
Restored Tam-Pop/Sal sites likely supported higher abundances of herpetofauna, as these areas exhibited greater habitat heterogeneity. Restoration activities created a mosaic habitat by reducing canopy cover and increasing native tree density and surface water. Natural resource managers should consider implementing additional restoration efforts following biological control when attempting to restore riparian areas dominated by Tamarix and other non-native trees.