Efficacy and efficiency of head-starting and captive propagation of an endangered amphibian: Implications for continued population and habitat management following catastrophic wildfire
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The Lost Pines ecoregion of Texas is a loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) and post oak (Quercus stellata) dominated woodland forest with remaining fragments in Austin, Bastrop, Colorado and Fayette Counties. Bastrop County continues to support the largest known and best studied population of Houston toads (Bufo [Anaxyrus] houstonensis). The Houston toad was first described in Houston, Texas in 1953, and was the first animal from Texas and first amphibian federally listed as an endangered species. To date, nearly all recovery efforts have centered on the “robust” population remnant in Bastrop County, Texas. Houston toad populations have remained in a continual decline consequent of multiple stressors, including habitat fragmentation, urban growth of the city of Bastrop, red imported fire ants, fertilizers and chemical run off, agricultural practices, drought, and most recently, catastrophic wildfire. The aftermath of the Bastrop County Complex fire of 2011 has left Bastrop County with the need for immediate, active and continual restoration of plant communities on public and private land. This recent fire event now presents us with the rare opportunity to explicitly test habitat suitability and species survivorship pre and post catastrophic wildfire on native amphibian populations. I seek to provide data that are relevant to continued population conservation programs and the ongoing habitat remediation and restoration efforts in Bastrop County. I have 1) investigated the efficacy and effectiveness of head-starting and captive propagated releases of Houston toads; 2) assessed habitat suitability and the effects of catastrophic wildfire on Houston toad populations, and 3) assessed familiarity and community support of recovery efforts for the Houston toad among City of Bastrop residents. My results will guide future management strategies and contribute to conservation recovery efforts for the remaining Houston toads in this altered landscape.