Intermediate pond sizes contain the highest density, richness, and diversity of pond-breeding amphibians

R. D. Semlitsch, William E. Peterman, T. L. Anderson, D. L. Drake, B. H. Ousterhout

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We present data on amphibian density, species richness, and diversity from a 7140-ha area consisting of 200 ponds in the Midwestern U.S. that represents most of the possible lentic aquatic breeding habitats common in this region. Our study includes all possible breeding sites with natural and anthropogenic disturbance processes that can be missing from studies where sampling intensity is low, sample area is small, or partial disturbance gradients are sampled. We tested whether pond area was a significant predictor of density, species richness, and diversity of amphibians and if values peaked at intermediate pond areas. We found that in all cases a quadratic model fit our data significantly better than a linear model. Because small ponds have a high probability of pond drying and large ponds have a high probability of fish colonization and accumulation of invertebrate predators, drying and predation may be two mechanisms driving the peak of density and diversity towards intermediate values of pond size. We also found that not all intermediate sized ponds produced many larvae; in fact, some had low amphibian density, richness, and diversity. Further analyses of the subset of ponds represented in the peak of the area distribution showed that fish, hydroperiod, invertebrate density, and canopy are additional factors that drive density, richness and diversity of ponds up or down, when extremely small or large ponds are eliminated. Our results indicate that fishless ponds at intermediate sizes are more diverse, produce more larvae, and have greater potential to recruit juveniles into adult populations of most species sampled. Further, hylid and chorus frogs are found predictably more often in ephemeral ponds whereas bullfrogs, green frogs, and cricket frogs are found most often in permanent ponds with fish. Our data increase understanding of what factors structure and maintain amphibian diversity across large landscapes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0123055
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 23 2015


  • INHS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Intermediate pond sizes contain the highest density, richness, and diversity of pond-breeding amphibians'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this