Terrestrial salamanders of the family P!ethodontidae have unique attributes that make them excellent indicators of biodiversity and ecosystem integrity in forested habitats. Their longevity, small territory size, site fidelity, sensitivity to natural and anthropogenic perturbations, tendency to occur in high densities, and low sampling costs mean that counts of plethodontid salamanders provide numerous advantages over counts of other North American forest organisms for indicating environmental change. Furthermore, they are tightly linked physiologically to microclimatic and successional processes that influence the distribution and abundance of numerous other hydrophilic but difficult-to-study forest-dwelling plants and animals. Ecosystem processes such as moisture cycling, food-web dynamics, and succession, with their related structural and microclimatic variability, all affect forest biodiversity and have been shown to affect salamander populations as well. We determined the variability associated with sampling for plethodontid salamanders by estimating the coefficient of variation (CV) from available time-series data. The median coefficient of variation indicated that variation in counts of individuals among studies was much lower in plethodonticis (27%) than in lepidoptera (93%), passerine birds (57%), small mammals (69%), or other amphibians (37-46%), which means plethodontid salamanders provide an important statistical advantage over other species for monitoring long-term forest health.
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A case for using Plethodontid salamanders for monitoring biodiversity and ecosystem integrity of North American forests