Effects of Urbanization and Habitat Fragmentation on Red-backed Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus)

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The Ohio State University

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Globally, urban environments are growing at an equal or greater rate than the human population. This growth is causing environmental stress through land use change and habitat fragmentation. These stresses, along with a host of others, are driving precipitous declines in vertebrate taxa around the world, especially in amphibians. However, the effects of habitat fragment size are understudied for these species. We tested the effects of habitat fragment size on Red-backed Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) as they are known to persist in highly fragmented, urban landscapes. We examined abundance, genetic health, differentiation, and potential bottleneck effects between 9 urban forest patches ranging from less than 1 hectare to approximately 250 hectares. There was no apparent effect of contiguous habitat patch size on abundance or genetic health, but we did observe differentiation in 94% of cases and evidence of bottleneck effects at every site. However, the differentiation observed was not a result of overland distance or effective distance due to landscape resistance. Therefore, it is evident that abundance is a result of microclimatic conditions and that past land use history has altered the natural trajectory of these populations.



Plethodon cinereus, Habitat fragmentation, Urbanization, Genetics, Inbreeding