Community Ecology, Conservation and Signaling in Salamanders



The Southern Appalachians are a hotspot of salamander diversity. Currently, students in my lab (in collaboration with Drs. Mike Gangloff and Mike Osbourn of ASU) have multiple projects focusing on salamander community ecology, disease, conservation biology and signaling. 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. Our lab technicians are employing molecular techniques to test skin swabs taken from local amphibians.

My past MS student, Desiree’ Moffitt, investigated how community ecology and population size of five species of Plethodontid salamanders varies with elevation on Grandfather Mt., NC. She also studied the providence of chytrid-causing fungus in NC salamanders (Moffitt et al. 2015).

Worth Pugh (another recently graduated MS student) studied how habitat and landscape influence the abundance hellbender salamanders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) in the Watauga River drainage (Pugh et al. 2015). Tommy Franklin’s research has expanded on this project by using occupancy modeling to better understand how habitat predicts presence absence of hellbenders. Tommy’s thesis also investigates how well environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling predicts occupancy and abundance of hellbenders in southern Appalachian streams.

The lab group has collected long-term data of the reproductive behaviors and life-history evolution of spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum). Undergraduate honors student, Carl Jacobsen has demonstrated the clutch parameters influence the benefits of symbiotic algae to developing spotted salamander embryos. His research shows that polysaccharide type of the jelly matrix of salamander eggs is likely influenced by a complex interaction between predation pressure and benefits from intra-cellular symbiotic algae.

Lead by graduate student Monica Winebarger, we have recently begun a study investigate aposematic signaling (warning coloration) in local salamanders. Stay tuned to find out what chemicals lurk in the slime of our slimy friends.