Patuxent Wildlife Research Center


Managing Habitat for Amphibians

Monitoring programs worldwide focus on estimation of trends in populations, often with an implicit expectation that identification of a trend will result in smart decisions as to how to respond (via management).  Though many researchers investigating the patterns and causes of amphibian declines have focused on estimation and detection of population trends, we take a different approach.  We are linking amphibian monitoring data directly to potential management actions by following a structured approach to decision making.  These projects involve working closely with biologists from USGS and academic institutions, resource managers from FWS and the NPS, and other stakeholders, including The Nature Conservancy.  Notably, these collaborations will result in better-informed management, elucidate the links between local and regional stressors and amphibian population response, and provide more robust inference for amphibian population change throughout the northeastern United States.

marked <em>Lithobates sylvaticus</em>
marked Lithobates sylvaticus

Managing Vernal Pools

In 2008, cooperators in the southern portion of the region expressed concern that the majority of vernal pools are not supporting successful reproduction (i.e., juveniles), mainly because the pools are not retaining water long enough for tadpoles to reach metamorphosis. Multiple years of complete reproductive failure and the absence of pool colonizations are likely to result in population declines and local extinctions.  Natural succession of wetlands coupled with projected climate and land use change suggests that the remaining vernal pool habitat on protected lands may need active management in order to maintain viable amphibian populations.

In response, NEARMI is developing optimal management strategies for vernal pool-breeding amphibians that consider future climate change.  Funded by a competitive research grant through the national ARMI program, and in collaboration with Larissa Bailey and Adam Green of Colorado State University, we are testing management options at 4 sites at Patuxent Research Refuge.  This work is tracking marked adults and metamorphs to understand the potential contribution of managed sites to refuge-scale population persistence.


Adam checking drift fence
Adam checking drift fence

Management for Plethodon shenandoah

The Shenandoah salamander (Plethodon shenandoah) is a federally endangered high-elevation salamander restricted to approximately 6km² atop three mountains in Shenandoah National Park.  Like many other high-elevation species, the Shenandoah salamander is likely to be severely threatened by climate change.  An assessment of the impacts of climate change is required for efficient spending of funds, suitable management of rare and endangered species, and effective conservation of park biological resources.

Prompted by the need to develop a management plan and evaluate ongoing management actions on the Shenandoah salamander, two structured decision making workshops have been held involving cooperators and scientists from NPS, USGS, FWS, and the University of Virginia.  The ultimate goal was to develop an iterative state-based decision process, updated with information from a monitoring program designed to inform decision-makers on changes in the distribution of the species.  These two workshops helped to identify critical uncertainties in our current understanding of the species, and current research efforts (see the Shenandoah Salamander project page) focus on addressing these uncertainties.  Results of ongoing research will be used in the decision-making process to help National Park Service managers choose among management actions (including the no management alternative) that might mitigate the potential negative effects of climate change.

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Plethodon shenandoah
Plethodon shenandoah

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