Effects of land use legacies and habitat fragmentation on salamander abundance

Abstract

Context

Landscape modification is an important driver of biodiversity declines, yet we lack insight into how ongoing landscape change and legacies of historical land use together shape biodiversity.

Objectives

We examined how a history of agricultural land use and current forest fragmentation influence the abundance of red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus). We hypothesized that historical agriculture and fragmentation cause changes in habitat quality and landscape structure that limit abundance.

Methods

We measured salamander abundance at 95 forested sites in New York, USA, and we determined whether sites were agricultural fields within the last five decades. We used a structural equation model to estimate relationships between historical agriculture and salamander abundance mediated by changes in forest vegetation, microclimate, and landscape structure.

Results

Historical agriculture affected salamander abundance by altering forest vegetation at a local scale and forest cover at a landscape scale. Abundance was lowest at post-agricultural sites with low woody vegetation, leaf litter depth, and canopy cover. Post-agricultural sites had limited forest cover in the surrounding landscape historically, and salamander abundance was positively related to historical forest cover, suggesting that connectivity to source populations affects colonization of regenerating forests. Abundance was also negatively related to current forest fragmentation.

Conclusions

Historical land use can have legacy effects on animal abundance on par with effects of ongoing landscape change. We showed that associations between animal abundance and historical land use can be driven by altered site conditions and surrounding habitat area, indicating that restoration efforts should consider local site conditions and landscape context.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by Hobart and William Smith Colleges. We thank M. Balman, T. Dirgins, Q. Johnson, S. Knopka, A. McCarthy, N. Steijn, and R. Symmes for assistance in the field. P. Widowski was instrumental in providing logistical support. Sampling was conducted under collection license 1881 issued by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Sampling methods followed IACUC protocol 2013-01 issued by Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

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Correspondence to Bradley J. Cosentino.

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Cosentino, B.J., Brubaker, K.M. Effects of land use legacies and habitat fragmentation on salamander abundance. Landscape Ecol 33, 1573–1584 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-018-0686-0

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Keywords

  • Agriculture
  • Amphibian
  • Forest
  • Historical ecology
  • Landscape change
  • Plethodon cinereus