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Canessa S, F Oneto, D Ottonello, A Arillo and S Salvidio (2013) Land abandonment may reduce disturbance and affect the breeding sites of an endangered amphibian in northern Italy. ORYX 47(2):280-287

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Although human-related disturbance is usually detrimental for biodiversity, in some instances it can simulate natural processes and benefit certain species. Changes in the disturbance regime, both natural and human-driven, can affect species that rely on it. The Apennine yellow-bellied toad Bombina variegata pachypus, an amphibian endemic of peninsular Italy, has declined throughout its range in the last three decades. We sought to identify the drivers of the decline in the region of Liguria, at the limit of its north-western distribution. In 2009 and 2010 we surveyed sites where the species occurred until 2005 and related the persistence of breeding activity to the characteristics of sites. Populations had disappeared from 50% of the sites between 2005 and 2009. Current breeding sites showed less aquatic and bank vegetation, fewer predators and better insolation. Frequent disturbance events (desiccation and floods) were related to reduced vegetation, which in turn may decrease predator densities and increase insolation. In this region disturbance is provided by natural factors or, in the case of artificial water bodies, by regular maintenance carried out by landowners. The widespread land abandonment in Liguria can disrupt disturbance regimes, interrupting the removal of vegetation, and thus rapidly reduce the suitability of artificial sites. In our study this was confirmed, with most abandoned breeding sites occurring in formerly cultivated areas. Possible short-term conservation actions include creating new ponds, maintaining artificial water bodies and clearing vegetation. However, long-term conservation may be more problematic as the land abandonment process is unlikely to be reversed.