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Title: HABITAT RELATIONSHIPS OF RED-BACKED SALAMANDERS IN AN APPALACHIAN GRAZING SYSTEM

Author
item RIEDEL, BREANNA
item RUSSELL, KEVIN
item FORD, W. MARK
item O Neill, Katherine
item Godwin, Harry

Submitted to: The Wildlife Society
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/1/2006
Publication Date: 9/1/2006
Citation: Riedel, B., Russell, K., Ford, W., O Neill, K.P., Godwin, H.W. 2006. Habitat relationships of red-backed salamanders in an Appalachian grazing system. Proceedings of The Wildlife Society 2006 Annual Meeting, Anchorage, AK, September 23-27, 2006.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Woodland salamanders (Plethodon spp.) are important contributors to biodiversity and trophic processes within Appalachian forests. Several studies indicate that altered microclimates and vegetation structure after timber harvest (e.g., increased soil temperatures and reduced ground cover) may result in long-term population declines of some Appalachian salamanders. If changes in forest structure following harvest alter salamander habitat quality, conversion of forests to pastures or meadows presumably causes more severe and permanent impacts. However, virtually no data exist regarding woodland salamander responses to Appalachian grazing systems. We present results of research measuring responses of red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) to silvipasture and meadow conversion treatments at USDA Appalachian Farming System Research Center (AFSRC) sites in southern West Virginia. Artificial coverboards searches within northern red oak (Quercus rubra) silvipasture (basal area reduced 40-50%), hay meadow (>5 years after forest conversion), forest edge, and reference forest plots yielded 2,759 salamanders between May 2004-November 2005. Akaike's Information Criterion (AIC) model selection indicated that a disturbance model best explained salamander presence, but a model containing only the treatment parameter and a vegetation model also received empirical support. In contrast, only the ground cover model received empirical support for explaining salamander abundance. It appears that salamander presence and abundance may be negatively influenced by silvipasture and meadow habitats, but the 854 observations of P. cinereus, from 2004-2005, in these habitats are unprecedented. Sex ratios did not differ significantly among treatment types whereas the age structure was significantly different, with hay meadow habitats tending to have significantly more adult P. cinereus. These results indicate that red-backed salamanders may be more resilient than previously thought to changes in forest cover and structure, yet populations within the meadow habitats may not represent healthy populations in regards to their age structure and physiological condition.