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Canessa S and K Parris (2013) Multi-scale, direct and indirect effects of the urban stream syndrome on amphibian communities in streams. PLoS ONE

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Urbanization affects streams by modifying hydrology, increasing pollution and disrupting in-stream and riparian conditions, leading to negative responses by biotic communities. Given the global trend of increasing urbanization, improved understanding of its direct and indirect effects at multiple scales is needed to assist management. The theory of stream ecology suggests that the riverscape and the surrounding landscape are inextricably linked, and watershed-scale processes will also affect in-stream conditions and communities. This is particularly true for species with semi-aquatic life cycles, such as amphibians, which transfer energy between streams and surrounding terrestrial areas. We related measures of urbanization at different scales to frog communities in streams along an urbanization gradient in Melbourne, Australia. We used boosted regression trees to determine the importance of predictors and the shape of species responses. We then used structural equation models to investigate possible indirect effects of watershed imperviousness on in-stream parameters. The proportion of riparian vegetation and road density surrounding the site at the reach scale (500-m radius) had positive and negative effects, respectively, on species richness and on the occurrence of the two most common species in the area (Crinia signifera and Limnodynastes dumerilii). Road density and local aquatic vegetation interacted in influencing species richness, suggesting that isolation of a site can prevent colonization, in spite of apparently good local habitat. Attenuated imperviousness at the catchment scale had a negative effect on local aquatic vegetation, indicating possible indirect effects on frog species not revealed by single-level models. Processes at the landscape scale, particularly related to individual ranging distances, can affect frog species directly and indirectly. Catchment imperviousness might not affect adult frogs directly, but by modifying hydrology it can disrupt local vegetation and prove indirectly detrimental. Integrating multiple-scale management actions may help to meet conservation targets for streams in the face of urbanization.