Amphibian Response to Habitat Restoration
Invasive plants can dramatically alter wetlands and negatively affect the species that rely on these sensitive habitats. Shedd Aquarium is working with citizen scientists to remove invasive vegetation from wetlands in the Forest Preserves of Cook County and to monitor the responses of amphibians and other wetland species. This research will help inform management strategies to best protect wetlands and benefit the animals that use them.
how to help
Restoring temporary wetlands before they're permanently gone
Ephemeral wetlands—temporary ponds that form after snowmelt or spring rains—provide frogs and salamanders with important habitat for laying their jellylike eggs. In these fish-free waters, amphibian larvae and tadpoles also have a better chance to develop and survive. Wetlands are important habitat for many insects, like dragonflies, and birds and aquatic plants too. These seasonal habitats are disappearing due to a variety of manmade threats, including overgrowth by invasive plant species like buckthorn. Shedd Aquarium is helping restore wetland ecosystems within the Forest Preserves of Cook County.
How much restoration is enough?
Shedd researcher Melissa Youngquist is using an experimental design to find out how much area around a pond needs to be restored to increase the abundance and diversity of amphibians and other wetland species. She has selected nine ponds for the experiment: Six will have invasive plants removed at one of two distances from the water’s edge; the remaining three ponds will not be cleared. Youngquist will determine whether the number of species using the ponds, and their abundances, change over time.
“Wetlands are unique ecosystems that connect aquatic and terrestrial habitats. By removing invasive plants, we can improve the quality of aquatic and terrestrial habitats for species, like amphibians, that rely on both for their entire life cycle.”Melissa Youngquist, Ph.D., research biologist
Amphibians are the focus of this project because they use both aquatic and terrestrial habitats, are globally threatened and are a vital part of the ecosystem. Amphibians are an important link in the food web and help move nutrients between aquatic and terrestrial habitats: They are voracious predators for lots of smaller animals (mostly insects) and are also important prey for a variety of aquatic and terrestrial predators (aquatic dragonfly larvae, snakes, foxes, herons). Youngquist will also look at how the aquatic insect community responds to restoration and will monitor habitat quality to determine exactly how removing invasive plants affects the wetlands over time.
A group effort
This research is a collaboration among Youngquist, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and Shedd Aquarium’s Conservation Action Team. Volunteers with Great Lakes Action Days are important partners for this project as they help clear invasive vegetation from the ponds during the winter. Volunteers also help with species monitoring and data collection. Without help from citizen scientists, this project would not be a success.
All amphibians have a common characteristic—moist, porous skin that they can breathe and absorb water through.
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