The extensive clearing and modification of natural systems from anthropogenic activities is a pressing global concern. Forest habitats and animal communities within forests are among the most highly impacted, globally. Forest destruction has been repeatedly documented as a driver of biodiversity loss. However, little is known about how animal communities respond when altered landscapes are abandoned and left to regenerate into secondary forests. It is thought that the regrowth of secondary forests may help reverse biodiversity loss by restoring habitats to similar conditions as prior to land conversion. Of the forest cover that remains, over half is secondary forest, and in many countries secondary forest cover has been steadily increasing. Therefore, it is important to understand how and if faunal communities recover during secondary forest regeneration.
I combined meta-analytic, field-survey-based, and lab-based experimental techniques to determine how amphibians and reptiles respond to habitat change in general, and secondary forest regeneration on landscapes previously cleared for use as pasture. I addressed five specific questions: 1) what are the effects of habitat alteration on amphibians and reptiles?, 2) what are the effects of secondary forest succession on amphibians and reptiles?, 3) what is the relative importance of stochastic and deterministic effects on community assembly during secondary forest succession?, 4) how do amphibian and reptile species composition, probability of occurrence, and species richness change over the course of secondary forest succession?, and 5) is thermal quality of habitat an important mechanism of species response to secondary forest succession? I found that secondary forest has high conservation value for many amphibian and reptile species, environmental changes associated with secondary forest succession have a significant effect on shaping amphibian and reptile community composition, thermal quality is an important mechanism for species response and that strength of response is mediated by species-specific thermal biology. I also highlight the importance of riparian corridors in maintaining species diversity in modified habitats.