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An Assessment of Cardboard as an Artificial Substrate for Sampling Herpetofauna Communities

Todd Fredericksen, Wayne Hoffman, Brad Ross, Brad Johnson, Mike Lester
and Jan Beyea

National Audubon Society

Penn State University

The Procter & Gamble Company

Consulting in the Public Interest

[ Abstract ]


Cardboard panels were placed under the leaf litter of the forest floor in thirty-three forested stands in northeastern Pennsylvania to assess the effects of logging on forest herpetofauna. Cardboard was used as an artificial substrate, providing a standard search area and uniform material which could be used to compare the relative abundance of individual organisms and species among harvested stands. Compared to other artificial substrates, such as wood, metal or plastic, cardboard is inexpensive and easier to transport and install in study areas. It also absorbs moisture more readily and does not contain leachates potentially toxic to herpetofauna. However, cardboard deteriorates more rapidly than other substrates and must be replaced at more frequent intervals.

A preliminary study of twenty-four panels replicated on eight forested stands was conducted during 1995 to determine the effect of panel size on the number of herpetofauna observed. Amphibian abundance did not differ significantly per unit area among panels of differing size, including 929, 1858, and 2787 cm2 panels (1,2 and 3 ft2, respectively). Only three species of herpetofauna were detected under panels in 1995: Plethodon cinereus, Notophthalmus viridescens, and Thamnophis sirtalis.

In 1996, we assessed the efficacy of the cardboard substrate method by comparing numbers of individuals and species observed using this method to those determined using time-constrained area searches of natural substrates (rocks, logs, etc.) within all thirty-three stands. Panels were installed from March-May of 1996 and panel undersurfaces were checked twice during the period from April-September 1996 for the presence of herpetofauna. Of 2090 panels installed, 1556 (74%) were relocated and considered to be in suitable condition for searching. The remainder of panels were lost, had deteriorated, or were disturbed in some other way. The total surface area of relocated panels was 282.2 m2. Under this area of substrate, 98 individuals of five species (all salamanders) were found during the 1996 study. Plethodon cinereus represented 67% of all individuals observed, followed by Notophthalmus viridescens (26%), Plethodon glutinosus (4%), Eurycea bislineata (2%), and Desmognathus ochrophaeus (1%).

Cardboard substrates turned up far fewer numbers of individuals and species than time-constrained searches of these same stands. Compared to cardboard substrates, 4 person.hour searches replicated twice within these same stands produced 5119 individuals of 24 species (11 salamanders, 6 snakes, and 7 frogs). Cardboard substrates thus produced only 2% of the individuals and 21% of species observed by area searches. While suitable for monitoring the relative abundance of some salamander species, cardboard substrates do not appear to be effective for sampling large numbers or species of herpetofauna in forested study areas compared to searches of natural substrates.

U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S. Geological Survey
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Laurel, MD, USA 20708-4038
Contact: Sam Droege, email:
Last Modified: June 2002