WOODLAND POND SALAMANDER ABUNDANCE IN RELATION TO FOREST MANAGEMENT AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS IN NORTHERN WISCONSIN
Woodland ponds are important landscape features that help sustain populations of amphibians that require this aquatic habitat for successful reproduction. Species abundance patterns often reflect site-specific differences in hydrology, physical characteristics, and surrounding vegetation. Large-scale processes such as changing land cover and environmental conditions are other potential drivers influencing amphibian populations in the Upper Midwest, but little information exists on the combined effects of these factors. We used Blue-spotted (Ambystoma laterale Hallowell) and Spotted Salamander (A. maculatum Shaw) monitoring data collected at the same woodland ponds thirteen years apart to determine if changing environmental conditions and vegetation cover in surrounding landscapes influenced salamander movement phenology and abundance. Four woodland ponds in northern Wisconsin were sampled for salamanders in April 1992-1994 and 2005-2007. While Bluespotted Salamanders were more abundant than Spotted Salamanders in all ponds, there was no change in the numbers of either species over the years. However, peak numbers of Blue-spotted Salamanders occurred 11.7 days earlier (range: 9-14 days) in the 2000s compared to the 1990s; Spotted Salamanders occurred 9.5 days earlier (range: 3 - 13 days). Air and water temperatures (April 13- 24) increased, on average, 4.8 oC and 3.7 oC, respectively, between the decades regardless of pond. There were no discernible changes in canopy openness in surrounding forests between decades that would have warmed the water sooner (i.e., more light penetration). Our finding that salamander breeding phenology can vary by roughly 10 days in Wisconsin contributes to growing evidence that amphibian populations have responded to changing climate conditions by shifting life-cycle events. Managers can use this information to adjust monitoring programs and forest management activities in the surrounding landscape to avoid vulnerable amphibian movement periods. Considering direct and indirect stressors such as changing habitat and environmental conditions simultaneously to better understand trends in space and time can help improve monitoring programs for this taxa, which is at major risk of continued declines.
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