Stream salamanders in the family Plethodontidae constitute a large biomass in and near headwater streams in the eastern United States and are promising indicators of stream ecosystem health. Many studies of stream salamanders have relied on population indices based on counts rather than population estimates based on techniques such as capture-recapture and removal. Application of estimation procedures allows the calculation of detection probabilities (the proportion of total animals present that are detected during a survey) and their associated sampling error, and may be essential for determining salamander population sizes and trends. In 1999, we conducted capture-recapture and removal population estimation methods for Desmognathus salamanders at six streams in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, USA. Removal sampling appeared more efficient and detection probabilities from removal data were higher than those from capture-recapture. During 2001-2004, we used removal estimation at eight streams in the park to assess the usefulness of this technique for long-term monitoring of stream salamanders. Removal detection probabilities ranged from 0.39 to 0.96 for Desmognathus, 0.27 to 0.89 for Eurycea and 0.27 to 0.75 for northern spring (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus) and northern red (Pseudotriton ruber) salamanders across stream transects. Detection probabilities did not differ across years for Desmognathus and Eurycea, but did differ among streams for Desmognathus. Population estimates of Desmognathus decreased between 2001-2002 and 2003-2004 which may be related to changes in stream flow conditions. Removal-based procedures may be a feasible approach for population estimation of salamanders, but field methods should be designed to meet the assumptions of the sampling procedures. New approaches to estimating stream salamander populations are discussed.
Additional publication details
Estimation of stream salamander (Plethodontidae, Desmognathinae and Plethodontinae) populations in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, USA