Restoring water points, creating “Sources for Life” – 2e Part (Conclusions)

As we have explained in a previous article, the project “Restoring water points, creating “Sources for Life” is a conservation project for fauna in general, particularly amphibian wildlife, whose scope of action is Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. In that article, we detailed the different actions included in this project, whose purpose is to provide the fauna in general with quality water points that can be used as a drinking, feeding or breeding point. In this new article, we are reviewing the different actions carried out, and we are describing the effects they have had on different animal groups.
To begin with, let’s briefly summarize the different parts of this project to put us in context. First of all, adaptation of water points created by man, such as fountains, small reservoirs and drinking troughs, and creation of new water points such as temporary ponds. Secondly, the monitoring of the created and adapted water points, as well as other natural wetlands that may be of interest, to know their impact on biodiversity. Finally, education and environmental awareness about the importance, problems and possible conservation measures for this type of ecosystem and its biodiversity.
The reason why this project has a special focus on amphibian fauna is because amphibians are the most endangered animal group in the world. However, we believe that by protecting, adapting or creating water points to give them potential breeding points, we also provide water points that serve as drinking or feeding points for the rest of the fauna sharing the same ecosystem as the amphibians.
Now that we have detailed the context, let’s see the different actions carried out as well as the consequences that these have had on wildlife.

Creation of water points
This might be the most important point of the project, regarding the consequences on local fauna. During the years 2017 and 2018, twenty-five temporary ponds have been created through Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. However, the surveys carried out during this year (2018) only took into account the fifteen water points created during the first year of the project (2017), since the following ones were created during this spring and summer, so there has been no time for them to be filled and colonised.
Regarding occupation by amphibian fauna, the presence and reproduction of amphibians has been confirmed in 100% of the ponds created. The most ubiquitous species was the salamander (Salamandra salamandra longisrostris). We could find larvae of this species in thirteen out of fifteen new points created. In the case of the Iberian waterfrog (Pelophylax perezi), we were able to find it in seven water points, while natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita) and common parsley frog (Pelodytes punctatus) were found in three of the new ponds. Iberian painted frog (Discoglossus galganoi) was found reproducing in two ponds and the Mediterranean tree frog (Hyla meridionalis) was only found in one water point.
Some of these species, such as parsley frog or Mediterranean tree frog, need a certain type of vegetation to lay their eggs. Since this is the first year for these ponds, some of them have not yet fully developed these plant communities, so we hope that as the vegetation evolves, these species could colonise a greater number of water points.
As mentioned earlier, not only amphibian fauna benefits from these water points, but all kinds of animals come to them to drink, feed on amphibian larvae and arthropods, or just to cool down. In spite of not knowing the data accurately, since the sampling process did not follow the same periodicity than the amphibian one, the use of these water points was confirmed for a multitude of birds and mammals.
As for the birds, phototraping cameras confirmed the presence of up to thirty-six different species. Of course, not every visit was taken into account, since surveys did not have more than two or three days of phototraping per point. However, it was noted that on the highest temperature days, there were up to 150 visits made by different individuals. It is worth noting the importance of these ponds at the beginning of summer, coinciding with the end of breeding season, when entire families of different birds came to drink and cool themselves down, in the absence of natural water points. Below you could find a table with the different species detected by the cameras.

Tawny owl Strix aluco Western orphean warbler Sylvia hortensis
Common buzzard Buteo buteo Common woodpigeon Columba palumbus
Green woodpecker Picus viridis Collared dove Streptopelia decaocto
Golden oriole Oriolus oriolus European turtle dove Streptopelia turtur
Red-legged partridge Alectoris rufa Eurasian nuthatch Sitta europaea
Eurasian jay Garrulus glandarius Great tit Parus major
Blackbird Turdus merula Blue tit Cyanistes caeruleus
Song thrush Turdus philomelos Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes
Mistle thrush Turdus viscivorus Common chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
Woodchat shrike Lanius senator European goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Wood lark Lullula arborea Long-tailed tit Long-tailed tit
Barn swallow Hirundo rustica House sparrow Passer domesticus
Common chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita European greenfinch Chloris chloris
Melodious warbler Hippolais polyglotta European serin Serinus serinu
Cirl bunting Emberiza cirlus European robin Erithacus rubecula
Rock bunting Emberiza cia Winter wren Troglodytes hiemalis
Sardinian warbler Sylvia melanocephala Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis
Eurasian blackcap Sylvia atricapilla Spotless starling Sturnus unicolor

Regarding the mammals, phototraping cameras detected up to ten wild species among which the red deer (Cervus elaphus), European roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), Iberian ibex (Capra pyrenaica), beech marten (Martes foina), common genet (Genetta genetta), Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), wild boar (Sus scrofa), European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) or wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus). In addition, the presence of cattle such as cows, domestic goats or sheep was confirmed.
Other kinds of fauna that could be found in these water points were reptiles such as the viperine water snake (Natrix maura). This species was found during almost every visit at two of the ponds created. This makes us think that these water snakes made these places their usual feeding point, hunting frogs and other amphibians that were living there.
Adaptation and creation of water points.
Another part of the project was the adaptation of artificial water points such as fountains, small reservoirs and drinking troughs. These structures were provided with access and exit ramps which allowed wildlife not only to facilitate access but to avoid drowning due to the impossibility of leaving because of the verticality of the walls.
Previously to the construction of these ramps, we confirmed the predilection of salamander for fountains and drinking troughs, being present in 22 out of 30 water points. This gives us an idea of the relative ease of adults to enter and exit of these water points. Post-adaptation samplings have not varied too much in terms of occupation by this species, as we confirmed its presence in 24 out of 30 water points. However, juvenile individuals do not have the same ease to leave once their metamorphic period has ended. This is due to the verticality of the walls and to the fact that the water level is usually much lower as summer approaches. That’s where the exit ramps are vital for the survival of these individuals and, we can say, that unlike previous years, no drowning or dried specimens have been observed in the adapted water points.
During the sampling period, practically all of the salamander specimens found were larval, aquatic and easily detectable individuals. Adults, on the other hand, present nocturnal and terrestrial habits, making their detection difficult.
Another amphibian species with a predilection for fountains or drinking troughs is Iberian water frog, which has been observed in eight out of thirty water points, both before and after the actions undertaken. Despite the absence of significant differences in terms of occupation, this species has been able to take advantage of the adaptations to increase the survival of postmetamorphic individuals.
We also noted the use of these ramps by mustelids and many birds that come to these points to drink or feed, as well as the absence of drowned fauna as a result of their incapacity of going out of them.
Environmental education
Another point we consider most important in the project is dissemination, education and environmental awareness about the importance of water points for amphibian life and biodiversity in general.
To this effect, we promoted several activities focused on different sectors of the population.
In the first place, we did educational workshops in which more than 160 children from different schools of Sierra de Cádiz could learn about amphibian fauna, from the point of view of its conservation, and the conservation of their habitats.
In the second place, we held four training sessions for environmental agents, naturalists, livestock breeders and general public. The purpose of these conferences was to introduce participants to the biology of amphibians, their role in ecosystems, the species that inhabit the natural park, the threats they face and the conservation measures that are being implemented within this project.
Finally, we organized seven days of environmental volunteering, which purpose was to learn more about the problems faced by delicate ecosystems such as temporary ponds, and to learn how to create a water point for wildlife in general.
We can say that the results obtained during these last samplings have been better than we expected, given the short existence of these water points. In addition, last year has given very high rainfall average that have favoured the existence of many natural water points, so we hope that with the arrival of drier years, the points created during the project will have even more relevance.
The water points created during 2018, which have not yet been sampled, have greater surface and depth, so we expect other species such as pygmy marbled newt (Triturus pygmaeus) or Spanish ribbed newt (Pleurodeles waltl) to make use of them.
As far as environmental education is concerned, it has been perceived a greater sensitivity to the problems suffered by amphibian fauna, as well as its habitat.
It is worth mentioning the importance of these water points for those who love nature observation, since these points are true hotspots of biodiversity.
Finally, we want to highlight once again the simplicity in the implementation of this type of actions, as well as its low economic cost. We would be delighted if after reading this article, some of you pay more attention during your field trips, to the existence of artificial water points susceptible of becoming a trap. The ideal solution is to create escape structures, but when it is not possible, we can always use branches or stones to create an exit point, with little effort but great impact. We also want to encourage you to create your own temporary pond, if you have the right place. In addition to doing conservation work, you will have the opportunity to enjoy the process of colonization by fauna and flora, and at the same time, you will be creating your own point for nature observation. From O-Live Environmental Association we will be happy to provide you with all the information you need.

Álvaro de las Heras Pardo
Fuentes de Vida Project Coordinator

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