Road-edge effects on herpetofauna in a lowland Amazonian rainforest
The impact of roads on the flora and fauna of Neotropical rainforest is perhaps the single biggest driver of habitat modification and population declines in these ecosystems. We investigated the road-edge effect of a low-use dirt road on amphibian and reptile abundance, diversity, and composition within adjacent lowland Amazonian rainforest at San José de Payamino, Ecuador. The road has been closed to vehicle traffic since its construction in 2010. Thus, effects from vehicle mortality, vehicle-related pollution, and road noise were not confounding factors. Herpetofauna were surveyed using both visual encounter surveys and drift fences with pitfall and funnel traps at varying distances from the road. Structural and microclimate features of the forest were measured at each sampling distance. Several habitat variables were found to differ at intermediate and interior sampling distances from the road compared to forest edge conditions, suggesting the road-edge effect began to attenuate by the intermediate sampling distance. However, the edge effect on amphibians and reptiles appeared to extend 100 m from the road edge, as abundance and diversity were significantly greater at the interior forest compared to the forest edge. Additionally, assemblage composition as well as the hierarchical position of species shifted between sampling distances. Habitat predictor models indicate that amphibian abundance was best predicted by vine abundance, while both vine and mature tree abundance were the best predictors for species richness and diversity. Overall, and contrary to what might otherwise be expected, our results demonstrate that small, little-used road disturbances can nonetheless have profound impacts on wildlife.