Influence of prescribed fire and forest structure on woodland salamander abundance in the central Appalachians, USA
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Forest Ecology and Management
Prescribed fire is used in the central Appalachians to promote and maintain mixed-oak and pine forests, create open forest conditions, improve habitat for wildlife, and to reduce the risk of impact of higher intensity wildfires on human development. Few studies have investigated responses of terrestrial salamander populations to habitat management using fire, and estimated responses have been neutral, negative, and positive depending on geography, species, and fire-severity. We examined woodland salamander (genus Plethodon) population responses to habitat management using prescribed fire on Shenandoah Mountain in the George Washington National Forest in West Virginia and Virginia, USA. We focused on responses of the Cow Knob Salamander (P. punctatus), a talus specialist and species of high conservation concern, but also examined responses of the Eastern Red-Backed Salamander (P. cinereus), a widespread habitat generalist. Three burn units were subjected to two low-severity burns and one unit was burned five times with ca. 40% tree mortality. Using a combination of nighttime visual encounter surveys and coverboard surveys, we compared terrestrial salamander abundance and body condition in unburned and burned areas. We also measured habitat characteristics at sampling sites to determine if prescribed burn histories were correlated with habitat conditions important to woodland salamanders. Mean abundance for P. punctatus was lower at sites that were burned, but there was not a strong burn effect for P. cinereus. Abundance of both species was positively correlated with canopy cover. Mean and median body condition index (BCI) score was higher for P. punctatus and lower for P. cinereus on the West Virginia side of Shenandoah Mountain, and lower in burned areas for both species. However, the most parsimonious BCI models did not contain the burn predictor. Management using prescribed fire altered microhabitat conditions that are important for woodland salamanders, such as canopy cover, leaf litter depth, and vegetation groundcover. Our study suggests that woodland salamanders in the central Appalachians can persist in forests managed using prescribed fire, but also indicates that prescribed fire can result in reduced habitat quality for some woodland salamander species.
KeywordsAmphibian; Cow Knob Salamander; George Washington National Forest; Habitat Management; Plethodon
Jacobsen, Carl D.; Brown, Donald J.; Flint, William D.; Schuler, Jamie L.; Schuler, Thomas M. 2020. Influence of prescribed fire and forest structure on woodland salamander abundance in the central Appalachians, USA. Forest Ecology and Management. 468: 118185. 12 p. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2020.118185.