Fine-Scale Habitat Associations of a Terrestrial Salamander: The Role of Environmental Gradients and Implications for Population Dynamics

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Abstract

Environmental gradients are instrumental in shaping the distribution and local abundance of species because at the most fundamental level, an organism's performance is constrained by the environment it inhabits. In topographically complex landscapes, slope, aspect, and vegetative cover interact to affect solar exposure, creating temperature-moisture gradients and unique microclimates. The significance of the interaction of abiotic gradients and biotic factors such as competition, movement, or physiology has long been recognized, but the scale at which these factors vary on the landscape has generally precluded their inclusion in spatial abundance models. We used fine-scale spatial data relating to surface-soil moisture, temperature, and canopy cover to describe the spatial distribution of abundance of a terrestrial salamander, Plethodon albagula, across the landscape. Abundance was greatest in dense-canopy ravine habitats with high moisture and low solar exposure, resulting in a patchy distribution of abundance. We hypothesize that these patterns reflect the physiological constraints of Plethodontid salamanders. Furthermore, demographic cohorts were not uniformly distributed among occupied plots on the landscape. The probability of gravid female occurrence was nearly uniform among occupied plots, but juveniles were much more likely to occur on plots with lower surface temperatures. The disconnect between reproductive effort and recruitment suggests that survival differs across the landscape and that local population dynamics vary spatially. Our study demonstrates a connection between abundance, fine-scale environmental gradients, and population dynamics, providing a foundation for future research concerning movement, population connectivity, and physiology. © 2013 Peterman, Semlitsch.

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Peterman, W. E., & Semlitsch, R. D. (2013). Fine-Scale Habitat Associations of a Terrestrial Salamander: The Role of Environmental Gradients and Implications for Population Dynamics. PLoS ONE, 8(5). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0062184

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