We tested two predictions associated with the hypothesis that certain populations of pond-breeding amphibians are structured into metapopulations using minimum relative abundance estimates of nesting four-toed salamanders (Hemidactylium scutatum Schlegel) from 11 different ponds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Coefficients of variation (CV) for counts at individual ponds ranged from 0.25 to 1.26, and the overall mean CV at all 11 ponds was 0.34. Many pairs of ponds had negative correlations in abundance from 1999-2003, whereas others had various degrees of positive correlation (mean r = 0.29). Thus, nesting population size fluctuated semi-independently among the ponds from year to year, inferring the existence of inter-pond dispersal. The mean number of nesting females at a pond was negatively, but non-significantly, correlated (r = -0.27; P = 0.40; 10 d.f.) to the pond's isolation. Owing to physiological constraints on plethodontid salamander energetics, precipitation during the nesting season (February and March) appeared to play an important role (r = 0.78; P = 0.12; 4 d.f.) in the number of nesting females we observed. Unlike some other plethodontid salamander populations in more fragmented southern Appalachian forest ecosystems, this (meta)population within Great Smoky Mountains National Park does not appear to be declining.
Additional publication details
Fluctuations in a metapopulation of nesting four-toed salamanders, Hemidactylium scutatum, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, USA, 1999-2003