Community Ecology & Conservation of Salamanders

The Southern Appalachians are a hotspot of salamander diversity. Currently, students in my lab (in collaboration with Dr. Mike Gangloff of ASU) have multiple projects focusing on salamander community ecology, disease, and conservation biology. One project partners with the NC Wildlife Commission to determine the prevalence of chytridmycosis in local amphibians. Our goal is to understand the importance of ecological and environmental factors that structure the prevalence of this disease. Amanda Hastings is a technician in the lab who is employing molecular techniques to test skin swabs taken from local amphibians.

My recently graduated MS student, Desiree’ Moffitt, investigated how community ecology and population size of five species of Plethodontid salamanders varies with elevation on Grandfather Mt., NC and she started the chytrid project. Worth Pugh (another recently graduated MS student) studied how habitat and landscape influence the demographics and larval recruitment of hellbender salamanders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) in the Watauga River drainage. Finally, Worth helped the lab begin a long-term study of the reproductive behaviors and life-history evolution of spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum). Each year, the lab collects data on local breeding populations. We have recently begun a comparative study to investigate under what conditions Ambystoma evolve bright warning coloration.