Artificial water bodies as amphibian breeding sites: the case of the common midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans) in central Spain
Natural breeding sites for amphibians are decreasing in quantity and quality in temperate regions, resulting in local extinctions and increasing population fragmentation. Artificial water bodies (e.g., water tanks or cattle troughs) can represent suitable reproductive habitats for some amphibians, but demographic data are required to assess this assumption. We evaluated the role of artificial water bodies in the persistence of a species of population concern, the common midwife toad, Alytes obstetricans (Laurenti 1768), at local and regional scales. We surveyed 275 water bodies to characterize the distribution of the species and detected 63 breeding populations of A. obstetricans where we estimated larval abundance. In addition, we monitored two populations for three consecutive breeding seasons using capture-mark-recapture methods based on photo-identification, assessing abundance, breeding success and the use of space of adult individuals captured on multiple occasions. Our results show that artificial sites are preferentially used as breeding sites in the region compared to natural aquatic habitats, providing key habitat for the species and hosting much larger numbers and densities of larvae than natural sites. At local scale, populations of A. obstetricans in artificial sites were abundant and characterized by high male breeding success. However, adults are spatially aggregated around breeding sites, with small home ranges, implying high vulnerability to population fragmentation. Our results suggest artificial breeding sites can sustain viable populations of A. obstetricans, provided measures promoting connectivity among breeding nuclei are considered.