Micro-habitat distribution drives patch quality for sub-tropical rocky plateau amphibians in the northern Western Ghats, India

PLoS One. 2018 Mar 26;13(3):e0194810. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0194810. eCollection 2018.


The importance of patch quality for amphibians is frequently overlooked in distribution models. Here we demonstrate that it is highly important for the persistence of endemic and endangered amphibians found in the threatened and fragile ecosystems that are the rocky plateaus in Western Maharashtra, India. These plateaus are ferricretes of laterite and characterise the northern section of the Western Ghats/Sri Lanka Biodiversity Hotspot, the eighth most important global hotspot and one of the three most threatened by population growth. We present statistically supported habitat associations for endangered and data-deficient Indian amphibians, demonstrating significant relationships between individual species and their microhabitats. Data were collected during early monsoon across two seasons. Twenty-one amphibian taxa were identified from 14 lateritic plateaus between 67 and 1179m above sea level. Twelve of the study taxa had significant associations with microhabitats using a stepwise analysis of the AICc subroutine (distLM, Primer-e, v7). Generalist taxa were associated with increased numbers of microhabitat types. Non-significant associations are reported for the remaining 9 taxa. Microhabitat distribution was spatially structured and driven by climate and human activity. Woody plants were associated with 44% of high-elevation taxa. Of the 8 low-elevation taxa 63% related to water bodies and 60% of those were associated with pools. Rock size and abundance were important for 33% of high elevation specialists. Three of the 4 caecilians were associated with rocks in addition to soil and stream presence. We conclude the plateaus are individualistic patches whose habitat quality is defined by their microhabitats within climatic zones.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amphibians / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Biodiversity
  • Climate Change
  • Ecosystem*
  • India
  • Seasons

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the following: CJT: The Royal Geographical Society with IBG (www.rgs.org) through Geographical Fieldwork Grants in 2013 and 2014 and the Monica Cole Award 2012. CJT: The Erasmus Darwin Barlow Expedition Fund, Zoological Society of London (https://www.zsl.org) grant in 2014. TRL: Percy Sladen Memorial Trust (https://www.linnean.org › The Society › Medals, Awards, Prizes and Grants) award in 2014. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.