, Volume 176, Issue 2, pp 357–369 | Cite as

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

  • W. E. PetermanEmail author
  • R. D. Semlitsch
Physiological ecology - Original research


Many patterns observed in ecology, such as species richness, life history variation, habitat use, and distribution, have physiological underpinnings. For many ectothermic organisms, temperature relationships 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 (Plethodon albagula), 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 activity. Our results suggest that survival, recruitment, or both are demographic processes that are affected by water loss and the ability of salamanders to be surface-active. Results from our study extend our understanding of plethodontid salamander ecology, emphasize the limitations imposed by their unique physiology, and highlight the importance of water loss to spatial population dynamics. These findings are timely for understanding the effects that fluctuating temperature and moisture conditions predicted for future climates will have on plethodontid salamanders.


Abundance Ecophysiology Foraging time Plaster models Plethodon albagula 



We thank D. Hocking for discussions on statistical analysis, and G. Connette for helpful discussion and comments. This manuscript was improved by the insightful comments of two anonymous reviewers and H. Ylonen. Support was provided by the University of Missouri Research Board (CB000402), Trans World Airline Scholarship, and the Department of Defense Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (RC2155). This research was done in accordance with the laws of the state of Missouri and the USA, approved the University of Missouri Animal Care and Use Committee (#7403), and conducted under Missouri Wildlife Collector’s Permit #15203.

Supplementary material

442_2014_3041_MOESM1_ESM.doc (20.1 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 20556 kb) Appendix S1. Detailed methods of how mixed effect models were made to estimate rates of water loss. Appendix S2. Details of field methods used to collect salamander abundance and size data, as well as detailed description of abundance and multistate modelling procedures


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Biological SciencesUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.Illinois Natural History Survey, Prairie Research InstituteUniversity of IllinoisChampaignUSA

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