Back to Africa: monitoring post-hydropower restoration to facilitate reintroduction of an extinct-in-the-wild amphibian
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Monitoring of the ecological efficiency of different restoration and mitigation measures is important to inform decision-making but can be challenging, especially in remote and low-resource settings. Species composition of the vegetation is sensitive to environmental variation, and can thus be used in restoration assessment, but this requires statistical approaches that can accommodate multivariate responses. We use principal response curves (PRC) to assess the efficiency of post-hydropower mitigation measures installed to secure the reintroduction of an extinct-in-the-wild amphibian back into its only native habitat.
The endemic ovoviviparous Kihansi spray toad Nectophrynoides asperginis is only known from a wetland in the Lower Kihansi River Gorge in the Eastern Arc Mountains in Tanzania. River flow was diverted from the gorge for hydropower production in 1999, causing the spray wetland to desiccate, consequently threatening the toad and other plant and animal species dependent on the spray-zone habitat. To mitigate the toad population collapse, a sprinkler system was installed over a limited section of the original spray-zone wetlands to mimic the waterfall spray and toads were taken to the USA for ex situ breeding. The decline, extinction, ex situ breeding, and planned reintroduction of the species has driven substantial research on Kihansi spray toad biology. In contrast, the efficiency of the mitigation measures in restoring the spray-zone wetland habitat required for its successful reintroduction has not been formally evaluated.
Here, we analyze re-sampled vegetation data from the spray-zone wetland over a period of eight years by means of principal response curves to investigate if the post-hydropower mitigation measures have successfully restored the pre-hydropower ecosystem. The results show that the spray-zone vegetation is recovering. The wetland flora and especially species important to the Kihansi spray toad have increased and the restored ecosystem has stabilized, favoring the reintroduction of the Kihansi spray toad to its native habitat. However, the wetland ecosystem is not restored entirely and continued mitigation measures are needed. Continued monitoring is essential to support evidence-based restoration, and we conclude that assessment based on vegetation monitoring coupled with principal response curve analyses provides a cost-effective and efficient monitoring tool for such projects. Read More: http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/ES14-00093.1