, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 345–354 | Cite as

Influence of Drought on Salamander Occupancy of Isolated Wetlands on the Southeastern Coastal Plain of the United States

  • Susan C. Walls
  • William J. Barichivich
  • Mary E. Brown
  • David E. Scott
  • Blake R. Hossack


In the southeastern U.S., changes in temperature and precipitation over the last three decades have been the most dramatic in winter and spring seasons. Continuation of these trends could negatively impact pond-breeding amphibians, especially those that rely on winter and spring rains to fill seasonal wetlands, trigger breeding, and ensure reproductive success. From 2009 to 2012, we monitored Spring and Fall presence of aquatic stages (larval and paedomorphic, gilled adult) of a winter-breeding amphibian (the mole salamander, Ambystoma talpoideum) and used multi-season models to estimate occupancy, local colonization and extinction. Seasonal estimates of occupancy, corrected for imperfect detection, declined from 22.3 % of ponds in Spring 2009 to 9.9 % in Fall 2012. Our best supported model suggested that changes in occupancy were driven by increased rates of extinction that corresponded with drought-related drying of ponds. Based on uncertainty in climate change projections for the Southeast, we present a conceptual model of predicted changes in wetland hydroperiods across a landscape with projected decreases and increases in future precipitation. Such precipitation changes could alter wetland hydroperiods, facilitate extinctions of species adapted to short, intermediate or long hydroperiod environments and, ultimately, modify the composition of amphibian communities within freshwater wetland ecosystems.


Climate change Drought Mole salamander Occupancy dynamics Pond-breeding amphibians Wetland hydrology 



Field work was supported by the USGS Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative. This research was conducted with permits from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (permit no. WX08477), St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (41640-2009-09) and the USGS Institutional Animal Use and Care Committee (USGS/FISC 2006–04 and USGS/SESC 2010–01). D. Scott was partially supported by the U. S. Department of Energy under Award Number DE-FC09-­07SR22506 to the University of Georgia Research Foundation. We thank L. Ball, D. Calhoun, A. Cressler, D. Gregoire, D. Gualtieri, J. Riley, J. Staiger and M. Randall for field assistance; D. Miller for suggestions on occupancy modeling; and C.K. Dodd, Jr. and J. Mitchell for commenting on earlier versions of the manuscript. Many of the ideas about the effects of climate change on pond-breeding amphibians presented herein were derived from discussions with K. Buhlmann, C.K. Dodd, Jr., K. Haag, S. Lance, J. Mitchell, S. Richter, and B. Taylor. We are grateful to them for sharing their thoughts and ideas. The use of trade or product names does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. This is contribution 429 of the United States Geological Survey’s Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative (ARMI).


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Copyright information

© US Government 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan C. Walls
    • 1
  • William J. Barichivich
    • 1
  • Mary E. Brown
    • 4
  • David E. Scott
    • 2
  • Blake R. Hossack
    • 3
  1. 1.U.S. Geological Survey, Southeast Ecological Science CenterGainesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Savannah River Ecology LaboratoryUniversity of GeorgiaAikenUSA
  3. 3.U.S. Geological SurveyMissoulaUSA
  4. 4.Cherokee Nation Technology Solutions, Contracted to U.S. Geological Survey, Southeast Ecological Science CenterGainesvilleUSA

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