Although amphibians are increasingly being used to assess ecosystem function of compensatory wetlands, there are almost no long-term studies of responses to ecological restoration. Consequently, much uncertainty exists about the appropriate timeframes and best criteria for evaluating responses to wetland restoration. We studied aspects of pond colonization and long-term community dynamics in ponds created at a mitigation site in western North Carolina. We examined whether landscape variables influenced the initial colonization of 22 constructed ponds and conducted a long-term study of changes in species richness and community composition in ten constructed and ten reference ponds over seven breeding seasons. During the first year of pond filling, species richness and the number of egg masses of the wood frog (Rana sylvatica) and spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) were positively correlated with pond size, depth, and hydroperiod but independent of distance to the nearest forest, paved road, or source pond. The ten constructed ponds in the long-term study first filled in 1996 and were larger, deeper, warmer, more oxygen-rich, and of longer seasonal hydroperiod than reference ponds. Seven species bred in the constructed ponds during the first year of filling, and species richness reached equilibrium within two years of initial pond filling. Most species colonized constructed ponds rapidly, but frequency of use by eastern newts (Notophthalmus viridescens) increased slowly over five years. Constructed ponds supported significantly more species than reference ponds, and the annual turnover rate of breeding populations was approximately 25% for both pond types. Our data suggest that post-restoration monitoring for 2–3 years may be sufficient to characterize species and communities that will utilize ponds for the first decade or so after pond creation.
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Vol. 23 • No. 4