Title: Woodland salamanders as metrics of forest ecosystem recovery: a case study from California’s redwoods
Author: Welsh, H. H.; Hodgson, G. R.
Source: Ecosphere 4(5), article 59: 25 p
Description: Woodland (Plethodontid) salamanders occur in huge numbers in healthy forests in North America where the abundances of many species vary along successional gradients. Their high numbers and trophic role as predators on shredder and decomposer arthropods influence nutrient and carbon pathways at the leaf litter/soil interface. Their extreme niche conservatism and low vagility offer further advantages to the use of these salamanders as metrics of forest ecosystem condition. Mill Creek is a 103 km2 commercially logged redwood forest watershed acquired as parkland where original primary forest is being restored. This study evaluated woodland salamanders as metrics of seral recovery at Mill Creek. Surface counts and body condition were examined in four sets of stands, two early seral, one mature, and one of primary forest (never harvested old-growth). Later seral sites were closer to the coast where fog increased available moisture; younger sites were further inland at higher elevations where fog was reduced. We distinguished the effects of geography and succession using ANCOVA with a PCA-derived landscape covariate. Both geography and succession increased counts of California Slender Salamanders (Batrachoseps attenuatus); advancing succession alone indicated increased counts of Ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii). Means and variances in body condition of these two species were lower in older stands; for the Del Norte salamander (Plethodon elongatus) only the means were lower. Coastal proximity increased mean body condition in E. eschscholtzii, but with P. elongatus it was the opposite. We modeled surface counts and body condition along environmental gradients associated with succession. The counts and body condition in two of three species when taken together suggested that the increased structural complexity in late-seral forest stands supported larger populations that appeared to be competing for limited resources and, thus, likely have greater population fitness than those in younger forests. B. attenuatus and E. eschscholtzii proved to be viable metrics of advancing succession with their numbers and body condition providing readily quantifiable measures of ecosystem recovery at Mill Creek.
Keywords: Batrachoseps attenuatus; biometrics; body condition; Ensatina eschscholtzii; Plethodon elongatus; redwood forest; seral recovery; succession; surface counts; woodland salamanders
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Welsh, H. H.; Hodgson, G. R. 2013. Woodland salamanders as metrics of forest ecosystem recovery: a case study from California’s redwoods. Ecosphere 4(5), article 59: 25 p.