AMPHIBIAN DISTRIBUTION IN THE GEORGIA SEA ISLANDS: IMPLICATIONS FROM THE PAST AND FOR THE FUTURE
Keywords:Biogeography, Land-use legacies, Amphibians
We summarized amphibian distributions for 12 coastal islands in Georgia, USA. Occurrence among islands was correlated with life history traits, habitats, island size, distance to other islands, and island geological age. Species’ distributions were determined from published literature. Island sizes and vegetation types were derived from 2011 Georgia Department of Natural Resources habitat maps, which included both federal and state vegetation classification systems. Species occurring on more islands tended to have greater total reproductive output (i.e., life span >4 years, and annual egg production >1,000 eggs) and adults had tolerance of brackish environs. Larger islands had greater area of freshwater wetlands, predominantly short hydroperiod (<6 months). Species tied to long hydroperiod wetlands (>6 months) were more restricted in their distribution across islands. Overall, larger islands supported more species, but the correlation was weaker for geologically younger Holocene islands (age <11,000 years). While Euclidean distance between islands does not necessarily preclude inter-island dispersal, inhospitable habitat for amphibians (brackish tidal marshes and creeks interspersed with wide rivers) suggests that inter-island dispersal is very limited. The paucity of recent occurrence data for amphibians in this dynamic coastal region, let alone standardized annual monitoring data, hinders efforts to model species’ vulnerability in a region susceptible to sea level rise and development pressure. The most common survey method, standardized amphibian vocal surveys, will detect Anuran reproductive efforts, but is unlikely to ascertain if breeding was successful or to detect salamanders. While it will not replace actual population data, consideration of critical life-history traits and breeding habitat availability can be used to direct management to support long-term species persistence in changing environs. Even common amphibians in coastal conservation areas of Georgia are vulnerable to increasing population isolation caused by unsuitable habitat.