Spatial variation in water loss predicts terrestrial salamander distribution and population dynamics

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
William E Peterman, Raymond D Semlitsch


Many patterns observed in ecology, such as species richness, life history variation, habitat use, and distribution have physiological underpinnings. For many ectothermic organisms temperature relations shape these patterns, but for terrestrial amphibians, water balance may supersede temperature as the most critical physiologically-limiting factor. Many amphibian species have little resistance to water loss, which restricts them to moist microhabitats and may significantly affect foraging, dispersal, and courtship. Using plaster models as surrogates for terrestrial plethodontid salamanders, we measured water loss under ecologically-relevant field conditions to estimate the duration of surface activity time across the landscape. Surface activity time was significantly affected by topography, solar exposure, canopy cover, maximum air temperature, and time since rain. Spatially, surface activity times were highest in ravine habitats and lowest on ridges. Surface activity time was a significant predictor of salamander abundance, as well as a predictor of successful recruitment; the probability of a juvenile salamander occupying an area with high surface activity time was two times greater than an area with limited predicted surface ...Continue Reading

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