Little toad challenges conservation biologists in Eastern Europe

By Tibor Hartel

Conservation biology is a wonderful concept. The yellow bellied toad – Bombina variegata – is a shy little amphibian, breeding in small temporary water bodies as showed below.

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Yellow bellied toad in a cattle dringking though.

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Small temporary ponds like this dirt road pond are important breeding habitats for the yellow bellied toad. My friend Kuno making pictures on breeding toads.

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Temporary springs without fish like this one are also important breeding habitats and possibly dispersion routes for the yellow bellied toad.

This amphibian is officially protected  in many / virtually all / European country (-ies) where it occurs and it is covered by the Natura 2000 regulations.

In the hilly-mountain areas of Transylvania (Romania) this toad is still very abundant. Below is a map showing the distribution of the yellow bellied toad in a recently delienated Natura 2000 site in Southern Transylvania (the region is at ca 300-500 meter altitude). Yellow dots are confirmed presences while the blue ones are those sites where the toad can be potentially present (i.e. not detected but we have no reason to believe that those ponds may not be habitats for them, at least sometimes) and there are some absences which are not shown. Black circles are 800 meter buffers around presences – we found strong spatial autocorrelation in presences up to 800 meter distance (we recaptured toads from 1400 meter distance from the pond, therefore the actual movement distance is higher). There are many other recorded presences for this region – the data collected by my colleague is not in this map.

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Yellow bellied toad in a Natura 2000 site from Southern Transylvania (after an ‘opportunistic but comprehensive’ survey – thanks Joern for this term!)

The wide presence of this toad is not a miracle in these landscapes: landuse is largely traditional, developement is low, there are many horse carts (sometimes small tractors) which are used by people to transport resources (wood, hay, crops).

The question arise: how to protect this species in this large scale? We are now developing a ‘management plan’ for the conservation of this toad (and other species). Should this conservation plan be called ‘destruction plan’?

Dear toad, what should we do with you, why are you so common? Our mind is not set to deal with such large spatial scales what your populations use!  We love those little patchy populations, you know, surrounded by concrete and buildings, which can be delineated with a small fence within which we count and individually know every specimen, and play with them and their habitats with volunteers and projects. We know everything about you: what you eat, where your breed, what are your preferences regarding habitats. But we are afraid that in large areas of this region, we will have no capacity to assure you some small ponds and optimal terrestrial habitats around them. Yes, our society is just like this – don`t take it personally, just life! How to protect your current populations when poverty is high, corruption is high and people want fast economic developement?

Any suggestion from experienced colleagues would be helpful!

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