Seasonal Use and Selection of Caves by Plethodontid Salamanders in a Karst Area of Arkansas
Briggler, Jeffrey T., Prather, John W., The American Midland Naturalist
From December 1998 through May 2000, seasonal use and selection of caves by salamanders were documented in 93 small caves in Crawford County, Arkansas. Caves were surveyed seasonally between winter 1998-1999 and spring 2000, and the numbers and species of all salamanders present were documented. Cave ambient temperature and relative humidity were recorded. Also, each cave entrance was georeferenced using GPS (Global Positioning System) and landscape-level variables around each entrance were quantified using ArcView GIS (Geographic Information System) data layers. Using salamander and ArcView data, relations between salamander occurrence based upon landscape-level variables (dominant overstory vegetation, geology, slope, aspect, solar radiation and distance to perennial stream) and cave characteristics (ambient temperature, relative humidity, cave length and entrance size) were examined. Six species of salamanders were found during the survey. Eurycea lucifuga (cave salamander), Plethodon albagula (western slimy salamander) and P. angusticlavius (Ozark salamander) were commonly observed. Eurycea lucifuga salamanders were active in caves during spring, summer and autumn. Plethodon albagula were most frequently encountered during the summer and P. angusticlavius were most frequently encountered during spring surveys. Few salamanders of any species were detected during winter surveys. The use of caves by the various species of salamanders was influenced by the landscape-level variables and cave characteristics. However, cave ambient temperature and relative humidity appear to have the most influences of salamander use of caves. Both E. lucifuga and P. albagula were significantly more likely to be found in caves with cooler temperatures in summer and higher relative humidities in autumn. In addition to these factors, the probability of finding E. lucifuga significantly decreased with increasing distance to permanent streams, whereas P. albagula was significantly more likely to be found in caves with south and west facing aspects, especially during summer and autumn surveys. There were no significant patterns for P. angusticlavius use of caves. Seasonal and spatial patterns of cave use by salamanders were primarily influenced by environmental (temperature and relative humidity) factors and the ecological requirements of the salamanders.
The eastern United States supports one of the richest diversity of plethodontid salamanders in the world (Duellman, 1999). Topographic relief, ample rainfall, abundant drainages, plentiful forest cover and karst geology of these regions has provided ideal habitats for a great diversity of salamander species (Mittleman, 1950; Bowling, 1956; Duellman, 1999; Culver et al., 2000). The presence of caves in karst regions like the Appalachian Highlands, Ozarks Highlands and Interior Lowlands is important to numerous species of salamanders, especially plethodontids (family Plethodontidae). Not only are the majority of troglobitic salamanders entirely dependent on caves to complete their life cycle (Brandon, 1971a; Culver et al., 2000), but also numerous species of salamanders, in particular plethodontids, use caves on a temporary basis for breeding, foraging or shelter from drought and cold (Mitdeman, 1950; Rudolph, 1978; Carlyle et al, 1998; Petranka, 1998; Johnson, 2000; Briggler and Puckette, 2003; Graening et al., 2003).
While considerable research has focused on cave-associated salamanders (e.g., Mitdeman, 1950; Barr, 1968; Peck and Richardson, 1976; Petranka, 1998; Culver et al., 2000) with an emphasis on species lists and basic life-history information, most of this information is based on surveys of a relatively small number of caves and is often based on only a few visits per year (Mitdeman, 1950; Mohr, 1950; Barnett, 1970; Black, 1973; McDaniel and Gardner, 1977; Williams, 1980; Buhlmann, 2001; Dodd et al., 2001; Elliott and Ireland, 2001). Thus, litde information exists on seasonal use and selection of caves by non-troglobitic salamanders and the relationships between cave occupancy and environmental characteristics of those caves (Ives, 1951; Hutchison, 1958; Barnett, 1970; Brandon, 1971b; Dodd et al. …