Survival and Breeding Frequency in Marbled Salamanders (Ambystoma opacum): Implications for Spatio-temporal Population Dynamics

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Despite known population-level sensitivity to adult vital rates, there is a shortage of robust estimates of adult survival and breeding frequency for pond-breeding amphibians. Evaluating the applicability of metapopulation principles to amphibians has also been constrained by the lack of demographic studies scaled beyond individual breeding populations. We investigate spatial and temporal demographic variability among six proximate breeding populations of Marbled Salamanders (Ambystoma opacum) in western Massachusetts, USA, focusing on the terrestrial adult life stage. Between 1999 and 2004, we captured and photographed approximately 1700 breeding adults, each between one and 12 times, at drift fences encircling breeding sites. After constructing individual capture histories from field data, we applied maximum likelihood approaches to estimate parameters for survival in the pond basins during breeding periods, survival in upland habitat during breeding and non-breeding periods, and both breeding and capture probabilities. Models selected using Akaike’s Information Criteria suggested that there was moderate variability in pond survival across years, but that generally, pond and upland survival varied little among populations within years. This suggests that asynchronous variability indicative of metapopulation dynamics is unlikely to be significant in the adult stage, at least among nearby populations in similar upland forests. An integrated measure of annual survival was 0.66 (SE = 0.02) for males and 0.62 (SE = 0.01) for females. Average breeding probabilities were very high (0.96; SE = 0.01) for males and high (0.67; SE = 0.02) for females, resulting in estimates of 2.5 and 2.0 lifetime breeding attempts, respectively. These parameter estimates will be used to develop spatially explicit population models to guide conservation and forest management strategies for A. opacum and other pond-breeding amphibians with similar life histories. Additional empirical work that estimates the effects of alternative management strategies on these vital rates will greatly improve the utility of these models.







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