Habitat requirements and conservation needs of peripheral populations: the case of the great crested newt (Triturus cristatus) in the Scottish Highlands

Miró, AlexandreO’Brien, DavidHall, JeanetteJehle, Robert. Hydrobiologia : DOI:10.1007/s10750-016-3053-7 (2016)  DIGITAL CSIC

Edge populations are of conservation importance because of their roles as reservoirs of evolutionary potential and in understanding a given species’ ecological needs. Mainly due to loss of aquatic breeding sites, the great crested newt Triturus cristatus is amongst the fastest declining amphibian species in Europe. Focusing on the north-westerly limit of the T. cristatus range, in the Scottish Highlands, we aimed to characterise habitat requirements and conservation needs of an isolated set of edge populations. We recorded 129 breeding pondrelated environmental parameters, and used a variable selection procedure followed by random forest analysis to build a predictive model for the species’ present occurrence, as well as for population persistence incorporating data on population losses. The most important variables predicting T. cristatus occurrence and persistence were associated with pond quality, pond shore and surrounding terrestrial habitat (especially mixed Pinus sylvestris–Betula woodland), and differed from those identified in the species’ core range. We propose that habitat management and pond creation should focus on the locally most favourable habitat characteristics to improve the conservation status and resilience of populations. This collaborative work, between conservation agencies and scientific researchers, is presented as an illustrative example of linking research, management and conservation.