Managing farm ponds as breeding sites for amphibians: key trade-offs in agricultural function and habitat conservation

Timothy M. Swartz, James R. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Millions of farm ponds have been constructed in agricultural landscapes around the globe. These ponds are built to support a variety of functions, including erosion control, cattle grazing, and recreational fishing, but their role as breeding habitat for amphibians remains poorly understood. We addressed this knowledge gap by studying farm ponds in the eastern Great Plains of the United States, a pond-dense region dominated by agriculture. We used field surveys and occupancy modeling to identify the important biophysical components of amphibian habitat and to assess the species-specific effects of cattle and fish presence on breeding occupancy. We next used a chronosequence to determine whether pond renovation, which often occurs when ponds are about 40 yr old, threatens the development of amphibian habitat. Nine amphibian species bred in the farm ponds that we surveyed, and the relationship between breeding occupancy and habitat variables varied by species. We found that the pH conditions associated with amphibian breeding occupancy were significantly more likely to occur in older ponds (>50 yr old). Emergent vegetation cover was also associated with increased breeding probability and rarely reached high levels in newer ponds. Since the older ponds with suitable habitat are at an age where renovation is likely needed to restore their agricultural function, this habitat may be at risk. We suggest that conservation of amphibians in farm ponds in the United States will require adopting renovation and management practices that balance the multiple uses of these sites and maintain a mosaic of pond successional states.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01964
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019


  • agriculture
  • amphibians
  • farm dams
  • farm ponds
  • management
  • novel ecosystems
  • reconciliation ecology
  • wetlands

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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