Abstract

Understanding the response of species to land-use change is necessary for the improvement of management and conservation policies. We assessed the impact of vegetation cover and land-use change on Morelet's crocodile populations in nine wetlands located in central Veracruz, Mexico, to test the hypothesis that higher forest cover and lower anthropogenic impact increases crocodile density. We correlated the relative density of crocodiles with wetland attributes, including depth, pH, salinity, and richness and structure of bordering vegetation; and with anthropogenic disturbance factors, including the proportion of modified land surrounding the water body, road density, and road type. The relative density of crocodiles was correlated positively with vegetation cover and correlated negatively with plant density and with the presence of nonpaved roads, particularly in the zone that bordered the water bodies (core zone). Our findings suggest that as long as the water bodies are bordered with arboreal vegetation, land-use change and paved road density in inland areas had minor impacts on Morelet's crocodile populations in Mexican wetlands. The vegetation cover and the number of nonpaved roads within the core zone are useful indicators of habitat suitability for the Morelet's crocodile. The conservation of mangroves and forest remnants is therefore essential for the maintenance of crocodile populations.

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