Wagner, N., W. Harms, F. Hildebrandt, A. Martens, S. Li Ong, K. Wallrich, S. Lötters & M. Veith

In Issues 2020

Do habitat preferences of European fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra) larvae differ among landscapes? A case study from Western Germany. pp. 254-264 plus Supplementary documents.

Abstract. The European fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra) is a widespread species that occurs in a variety of habitats throughout its range. We studied if different environmental parameters influence presence as well as abundance of larvae within different local landscape units across a more than 5,000 km² large Central European study area. This knowledge is crucial to differentiate between habitat specific absence/low abundance and externally triggered extinctions or population declines, e.g. through newly emerging infectious diseases. Within our study area, the salamander plague, caused by the invasive fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, has recently been invoked as major factor for population declines in S. salamandra. We estimated larval habitat preferences of 135 European fire salamander populations (presence-absence only), and estimated larval abundances in 85 out of them. In the entire study area, regardless of landscape units, presence of European fire salamander larvae was positively affected by low elevation, a high number of pools (preferred larval microhabitats) and a high amount of consumable macrozoobenthos in the reproduction creeks as well as a high proportion of forest cover in the surrounding terrestrial habitats. Apart from some minor differences among landscape units when they were analysed separately, we observed in many cases a positive effect of a high number of pools (11 out of 56 overall models = 20%) and, furthermore, a negative effect of a late mapping date (mainly due to larval drift caused by heavy rainfalls in early summer and metamorphosis) on larval abundances (12 out of 56 overall models = 21%). Consequently, at least in this Central European study area, which includes mountainous regions up to 700 m a.s.l. (‘West- and Osteifel’, ‘Hunsrück’), a mainly agriculturally used lime soil plateau (‘Gutland’) and a river valley (‘Moseltal’), these habitat preferences can be used to differentiate between habitat-caused and disease-caused absence of European fire salamanders and also population declines using the larval population.

Key words. Amphibia, Caudata, chytridiomycosis, habitat suitability, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans salamander plague, larval ecology, stream habitat.

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