Patuxent Wildlife Research Center


A New Collaborative Project to Understand Red-backed Salamander Population Dynamics and Climate Change Adaptation

In 2013, the Salamander Population and Adaptation Research Network started as a partnership between researchers at Penn State University and the USGS Northeast Amphibian and Research Monitoring Initiative with the intention of creating a research network to address climate adaptation and population dynamics across multiple scales. Our goals are to understand impacts of land use and climate change on salamander population dynamics and to develop a model to describe local and regional drivers of population dynamics by: 1)creating a versatile, statistically and methodologically efficient monitoring protocol, and 2)creating a network of linked observational and environmental manipulation studies.

Our focal species, Plethodon cinereus,  is a widely distributed, common woodland species that exhibits cryptic behavior similar to most amphibian species, but is sufficiently abundant to make stronger inferences about population dynamics and climate change. We will use mark capture-recapture with Visual Implant Elastomer (VIE) to estimate abundance, survival, recruitment, growth, and movement under a robust design sampling scheme. Each season (spring and fall) coverboard arrays are sampled 3-6 times and individual salamanders are counted, identified, marked, and released. The replicated plots are big enough to capture a population, but small enough for experimentation.  Current plot manipulations include manipulating winter snow cover to assess possible effects of climate change on overwinter survival.  Using site predictors such as habitat and topography, land use history, environmental conditions, and invertebrate community, we also plan to assess effects on morphology, abundance, age class structure, demography, and occupancy dynamics. 

We are currently working at 5 locations within the range of Plethodon cinereus: Turners Falls, MA; Ithaca, NY; Millmont & Philipsburg, PA; Patuxent, MD.  We are hoping to expand the project throughout the range of the species in the future to inform large-scale questions on range dynamics, behavior and surface activity, color morph frequencies, and body size.

As a citizen-science project, there is opportunity to contribute information on local populations at varying levels, including incorporating it into science curricula, field biology courses, or as regular projects at nature centers, refuge visitor centers and zoos. Contact us or visit the website for more information.

Plethodon cinereus
Plethodon cinereus

VIE salamander
salamander marked with VIE as seen under UV light

coverboard array
coverboard array in PA

Pseudotriton ruber

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