Ultimately, the key to protecting amphibians and reptiles is to conserve natural habitat. Some small species might be able to persist for decades on a few acres of disturbed woodland, but larger species occupying the top levels of the food chain require the protection of thousands of acres to maintain viable populations.
Habitat can be protected in many ways: a landowner’s personal stewardship of his or her property, government incentives or regulation, or acquisition and dedication as conservation lands. International organizations, government agencies, and private organizations (e.g., The Nature Conservancy) have protected millions of acres of habitat that sustain amphibians and reptiles. A few “high profile” species such as marine turtles, tortoises, large lizards, and even amphibians have provided the impetus for important preservation efforts.
Conservation efforts for species with complex life cycles must protect the full range of habitats required by all life stages. For example, many freshwater turtles need cover, basking sites, and feeding and nesting areas; pond breeding amphibians require undisturbed spawning sites, safe migratory routes, and upland habitats, often at considerable distances from ponds, for feeding and overwintering. Conservation efforts need to ensure that habitats are connected to avoid the consequences of isolation and habitat fragmentation and shredding.
Research has shown that habitat protection must include the regional landscape as well as the local population. Many species form metapopulations whose function and continued existence are as vital to a species’s existence as are local populations. Habitats need to be protected in a manner that recognizes the dynamic nature of reptile and amphibian populations both in space and time.