Worldwide, riverine floodplains are among the most endangered landscapes. In response to anthropogenic impacts, riverine restoration projects are considerably increasing. However, there is a paucity of information on how riparian rehabilitation activities impact non-avian wildlife communities.
I evaluated herpetofauna abundance, species richness, diversity (i.e., Shannon and Simpson indices), species-specific responses, and riparian microhabitat characteristics along three reaches (i.e., wildland, urban rehabilitated, and urban disturbed) of the Salt River, Arizona. The surrounding uplands of the two urbanized reaches were dominated by the built environment (i.e., Phoenix metropolitan area). I predicted that greater diversity of microhabitat and lower urbanization would promote herpetofauna abundance, richness, and diversity. In 2010, at each reach, I performed herpetofauna visual surveys five times along eight transects (n=24) spanning the riparian zone. I quantified twenty one microhabitat characteristics such as ground substrate, vegetative cover, woody debris, tree stem density, and plant species richness along each transect.
Herpetofauna species richness was the greatest along the wildland reach, and the lowest along the urban disturbed reach. The wildland reach had the greatest diversity indices, and diversity indices of the two urban reaches were similar. Abundance of herpetofauna was approximately six times lower along the urban disturbed reach compared to the two other reaches, which had similar abundances. Principal Component Analysis (PCA) reduced microhabitat variables to five factors, and significant differences among reaches were detected. Vegetation structure complexity, vegetation species richness, as well as densities of Prosopis (mesquite), Salix (willow), Populus (cottonwood), and animal burrows had a positive correlation with at least one of the three herpetofauna community parameter quantified (i.e., herpetofauna abundance, species richness, and diversity indices), and had a positive correlation with at least one herpetofauna species.
Overall, rehabilitation activities positively influenced herpetofauna abundance and species richness, whereas urbanization negatively influenced herpetofauna diversity indices. Based on herpetofauna/microhabitat correlations established, I developed recommendations regarding microhabitat features that should be created in order to promote herpetofauna when rehabilitating degraded riparian systems. Recommendations are to plant vegetation of different growth habit, provide woody debris, plant Populus, Salix, and Prosopis of various ages and sizes, and to promote small mammal abundance.