Understanding the mechanisms limiting the distributions of organisms is necessary for predicting changes in community composition along habitat gradients. In many areas of the USA, land originally cleared for agriculture has been undergoing a process of reforestation, creating a gradient of canopy cover. For small temporary wetlands, this gradient can alter abiotic conditions and influence the resource base of wetland food webs by affecting litter inputs. As distributions of amphibians and many other temporary wetland taxa correlate with canopy cover, we experimentally manipulated shade levels and litter types in pond mesocosms to explore mechanisms limiting species performance in wetlands with canopy cover. Most differences between ponds were mediated by litter type rather than direct effects of shading. Although all three amphibian species tested are open-canopy specialists, spring peepers were the only species to show decreased survival in shaded ponds. Pond litter type generally had strong effects on growth and development rates, with tadpoles of two species in grass litter ponds growing to twice the size of, and metamorphosing 7 days earlier than, those in leaf litter ponds. Contrary to our initial hypothesis, shade level and litter type showed very few significant interactions. Our results indicate that the effects of shading cannot be considered in isolation of vegetation changes in pond basins when evaluating the effects of forest succession on temporary pond communities.
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