Effects of even-aged timber harvest on stream salamanders: Support for the evacuation hypothesis

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Forest Ecology and Management


Habitats worldwide are increasingly threatened by degradation and conversion. Critical to the process of habitat loss is the organismal response, which can have effects on immediate conservation measures or future restoration. Among the most threatened and underappreciated habitats are headwater streams, which are small but abundant features of montane forests. These habitats comprise a significant proportion of the total stream length, can harbor remarkable biodiversity, and are critical for numerous ecosystem processes. One of the most abundant organisms in montane headwater ecosystems are salamanders, and therefore what happens to salamanders when the forest habitats surrounding headwater streams are altered? Three main hypotheses exist: (1) mortality hypothesis; (2) retreat hypothesis; and (3) evacuation hypothesis. To examine these hypotheses we evaluated the impacts of even-aged riparian timber harvest on stream-breeding salamanders. Riparian forests along headwater streams were logged, leaving riparian buffers of 0 m, 9 m, and 30 m. Responses to each riparian alteration were measured in terms of salamander terrestrial habitat use and growth in the riparian habitat, as well as changes in population density within headwater streams. Adult and juvenile salamander densities measured in headwater streams were significantly greater in logged riparian treatments than in unaltered riparian treatments. In addition, salamanders significantly reduced their terrestrial habitat use following riparian logging with both the average distance from the stream and the relative abundance of salamanders decreasing. It is unlikely that salamanders will persist in highly modified riparian habitats, as we measured significantly reduced body conditions over short periods of time at these sites. We present corroborative evidence that salamanders evacuate the riparian habitat following intensive riparian logging, emigrating to adjacent headwater streams. Our results underscore the sensitivity of stream salamanders to riparian habitat alteration as well as the importance of riparian buffers in preserving amphibian assemblages.



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