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Amphibian Conservation & the Wetlands Reserve Program

Extending from southern Illinois to the mouth of the Mississippi River in Louisiana, the Mississippi Alluvial Valley originally consisted of enormous bottomland hardwood forests encompassing approximately 10 million hectares. Today, only 20 to 25 percent of these historical forests remain as small patches fragmented by agricultural lands. However, the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), a voluntary program under the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, offers landowners an opportunity to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands on their property.

To assess the potential benefit of WRP restoration to amphibians, USGS scientists surveyed 30 randomly selected WRP sites and 20 nearby agricultural sites in the Mississippi Delta. They made repeat visits to each site from May to August 2008 and performed both visual encounter and vocalization surveys. Researchers analyzed the encounter history data for 11 anuran species (frogs and toads) using an occupancy model that estimated detection probability and probability of occurrence simultaneously for each species.

Their results showed that nine of the 11 species had higher probabilities of occurrence at WRP sites compared to agricultural areas. Derived estimates of species richness were also higher for WRP sites. Five anuran species were significantly more likely to occur in WRP than in agriculture, four of which were among the most aquatic species. Amphibians, especially anurans, are ideal organisms to determine restoration success in this landscape for several reasons: they use agricultural habitats, they need water for reproduction, they colonize suitable habitats rapidly, and they are important to the food web as both predator and prey. It appears that the restoration of more permanent wetlands at the WRP sites may be the primary reason for the results found in this study.

L. catesbeianus

Although amphibians represent only one group of wildlife species, they are useful for evaluating conservation benefits for wildlife because of their position in the food chain. Anurans eat insects, snails, spiders, worms, and small fish. In turn, they are eaten by snakes, foxes, fish, and birds. Areas with healthy anuran populations usually have greater species richness. The methods used in this study to evaluate the benefit of restoration could be used in other locations and with other groups of indicator species.

Additional Resources

Waddle, J. Hardin, Brad M. Glorioso, and Stephen P. Faulkner, 2013, A quantitative assessment of the conservation benefits of the Wetlands Reserve Program to amphibiansRestoration Ecology, v. 21, no. 2, p. 200-206.

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Wetlands Reserve Program site in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana.
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Wetlands Reserve Program site in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana.  Ten years ago, this landowner worked with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service through the Wetlands Reserve Program to design and construct this slough as part of a plan to restore this field’s natural wetland hydrology.

Green tree frogs rest on a Wetlands Reserve Program easement boundary sign in Morehouse Parish, Louisiana.
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Wetlands Reserve Program site in Morehouse Parish, Louisiana.  Green tree frogs rest on a Wetlands Reserve Program easement boundary sign in Morehouse Parish, Louisiana.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Wetlands Reserve Program site in Sabine Parish, Louisiana.  Landowner restored his often-flooded cattle pasture to its natural wetland state by creating shallow water areas, establishing food plots and pollinator plots, and installing wood duck nesting boxes.


USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Wetlands Reserve Program site in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana.  Changes in a local river resulted in the landowner’s fields flooding on a regular basis. The landowner worked through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to restore his fields to their natural wetland state.

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Page Last Modified: Monday, 28-Sep-2015 14:02:16 EDT