Rapid population increase of the threatened Australian amphibian Litoria aurea in response to wetlands constructed as a refuge from chytrid-induced disease and introduced fish.
Amphibians have declined due to multiple impacts including invasive fish and the disease chytridiomycosis caused by the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Wetland restoration can be used to increase amphibian populations. However the design of created wetlands must account for threats such as Bd and introduced fish. There have been no attempts on a landscape level to manage these threats with habitat design. Here we monitored the green and golden bell frog (Litoria aurea) in 2.6 ha of constructed wetlands designed to enhance breeding and increase survival through passive mitigation of Bd and exotic fish. We compared the fecundity, adult population sizes, introduced fish occupancy, Bd prevalence and survival rates of frogs in created wetlands (CW) to three control sites to determine if and why the habitat design was successful. Monitoring involved weekly capture-recapture during the austral spring and summer for three L. aurea breeding seasons. We hypothesised that (1) if the CWs were successful in passively limiting fish colonisation, a larger number of breeding events would be detected compared to control sites which are known to be widely colonised by introduced fish. (2) If the wetlands were successful in passively mitigating Bd, then we would observe an equal or greater survival rate and equal to or lower Bd prevalence compared to control wetlands. We observed a 3.3-fold increase in adult population size in CW from season 1 to 2, and the population increased further in season 3.We found strong support for hypothesis (1) and weak support for (2). Based on these results, we conclude that this design was beneficial shortly after their formation primarily due to fish exclusion, but further study is required to determine if these benefits extend long-term. Future amphibian restoration studies are needed to improve the design of wetlands to enhance suppression of Bd.