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2006 SOUTHEASTERN NATURALIST 5(2):285–288
Post-breeding Terrestrial Movements of
Ambystoma tigrinum (Eastern Tiger Salamanders)
David A. Steen1,*, Lora L. Smith1, Gabriel J. Miller1,
and Sean C. Sterrett1
Abstract - To assess use of terrestrial habitat by ambystomatid salamanders, Ambystoma
tigrinum (Tiger Salamanders) were monitored with radiotelemetry. Four
individuals were tracked as they exited a wetland and made wide use of the
surrounding landscape. Salamanders moved up to 255 m from the wetland of origin
and found refugia both within forested land and wildlife food plots. Based on the
extent of terrestrial movements by Tiger Salamanders, our findings support previous
work demonstrating that upland habitat surrounding wetlands are critical areas
in amphibian life cycles. Salamander movements did not appear to be influenced by
agricultural development, as two individuals traveled through this habitat type.
Ambystomatid salamanders make extensive use of terrestrial habitat
surrounding breeding ponds (e.g., Douglas and Monroe 1981, Kleeberger
and Werner 1983, Semlitsch 1981, Wacasey 1961, Williams 1973). For
example, Semlitsch (1998) suggested a 164.3-m buffer surrounding
wetlands would be necessary to protect 95% of individual ambystomatid
salamanders in a breeding population, but data regarding movement patterns
of several species were limited. Ambystoma tigrinum Green (Tiger Salamanders)
are known to undertake considerable terrestrial movements (up to
286 m from wetlands, mean = 60.5; Madison and Farrand 1998) but scant
information exists regarding movement of this species, particularly within
the southern portion of its range (Semlitsch 1983).
This study was conducted at the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research
Center at Ichauway (31o13'N, 84o29'W), an approximately 11,500-ha reserve.
Ichauway is primarily a Pinus palustris Miller (longleaf pine) forest
with undisturbed, native ground-cover species. The property is managed
intensively with prescribed fire to maintain a pine/grassland community.
Scattered individual hardwoods and hardwood patches exist within the
longleaf pine matrix as a result of natural and manmade fire shadows. The
site formerly was a private quail-hunting plantation, and portions of the site
are still managed for traditional hunting, which has resulted in a diverse
habitat mosaic of active and abandoned food plots within the forest matrix.
1Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center, Route 2, Box 2324, Newton GA,
39870. *Corresponding author - David.Steen@jonesctr.org.
286 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 5, No. 2
Herein we present data collected on four radio-tagged, post-breeding A.
tigrinum exiting a 0.56 ha seasonally inundated wetland surrounded by
predominantly mixed pine/hardwood forest. Approximately 40 m southwest
of the wetland are 2 food plots (3.1 ha and 0.8 ha) bisected by a strip of
mixed evergreen/deciduous hardwood forest (20 m x 400 m, 0.7 ha). Eight
A. tigrinum (4 females and 4 males) were captured in pitfall traps at a drift
fence as they exited the wetland between January–February 2005. Salamanders
were anaesthetized by immersion in a 1:1000 solution of buffered
MS-222 and surgically implanted with 0.8-g radio-transmitter units (BD-2H,
Holohil Systems Ltd., Carp, ON, Canada) with an estimated battery life of
21 days. Surgical methods followed Madison (1997).
After surgery, salamanders were held until a rain event (3–7 days) and
released at dusk within 2 m of the trap where they were captured. The first
6 individuals were released on the same night in mid-January. Attempts to
locate these individuals were undertaken after several hours, but their
apparently extensive movements made locating them difficult. Two of
these individuals were eventually located after a week of searching (female
3 and male 5; Table 1). Two additional animals were released, one in
January and another in February, and were monitored every 30–60 minutes
until movement ceased. Once an animal had found underground refugia
and remained relatively stationary, it was monitored daily until battery
failure or presumed predation.
Prior to being located within a burrow, salamanders were observed
crawling or stationary under leaf litter. Only one individual was found to
use more than one burrow. When we discontinued monitoring, salamanders
had not moved beyond their respective burrow for at least 2
days. There was considerable variability among individuals in total distance
traveled and in total distance from the wetland (Table 1). Salamanders
traveled overland relatively quickly; one individual (male 2) was
found to have moved 28 m in 30 minutes and 17.9 m in 45 minutes
Table 1. Movement data for four radio-tagged adult tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum).
Total Total Total Straight line distance
Sex ID Mass (g) fixesA locationsB movement (m)C from wetland (m)D
Male 2 20.78 14 7 57.75 67.5
Female 3 13.22 3 1 235.80 255.5
Male 5 22.28 3 1 112.90 103.8
Male 6 20.65 14 4 27.40 15.9
ANumber of times an individual salamander was tracked and located.
BNumber of unique locations where an individual was located.
CTotal straight line distance between locations, commencing at release point.
DStraight line distance from final location to closest wetland boundary.
2006 D.A. Steen, L.L. Smith, G.J. Miller, and S.C. Sterrett 287
between fixes. The transmitter from one salamander (male 6) was found
11 days after release at the mouth of a burrow in which the salamander
had been residing for 3 days. The transmitter was etched and pitted,
indicating that this was possibly a predation event.
Two individuals were located only within the mixed pine/hardwood
forest surrounding the wetland. However, one individual (male 2) was
found within a wildlife food plot (3.1 ha), and another individual
(female 3) was found within the strip of mixed evergreen/deciduous hardwood
forest that was bordered on both sides by the food plots. Amphibian
movements are known to be constrained by features of the landscape that
disrupt forest connectivity (Gibbs 1998, Rothermel 2004). Interestingly,
two of four A. tigrinum in our study traveled through or found refugia
within wildlife food plots. In addition, the majority of salamanders captured
at this wetland were caught in traps nearly adjacent to this land
cover type (L.L. Smith, unpubl. data), suggesting that A. tigrinum may
use this habitat extensively.
Our results indicate adult A. tigrinum moved considerable distances—
up to 255 m—from their breeding wetland, emphasizing the importance
of upland habitat for pond-breeding salamanders. Although only four
salamanders were successfully monitored with radio-transmitters, the
study wetland contains a breeding population of several hundred individuals
(L.L. Smith, unpubl. data). If movement data from this study are
representative of the larger population, A. tigrinum appear to make wide
use of the surrounding landscape, provided underground refugia are
available. No evidence was gathered to suggest that A. tigrinum movements
were constrained by agricultural development. Because of the relatively
large number of burrowing rodents, e.g., Peromyscus polionotus
Wagner (oldfield mice), that live in these areas, these habitats may actually
provide increased opportunities for shelter. Small-mammal burrow
density has been suggested as a potential factor limiting A. maculatum
Shaw (Spotted Salamander) populations (Regosin et al. 2003). Additionally,
food plots are tilled annually and the loose sandy soil may be
particularly suitable for fossorial species such as A. tigrinum. Further
research may reveal how agricultural development and altered small
mammal populations may influence this species.
Thanks are extended to the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation for project support
to the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center at Ichauway. J.C. Brock provided
assistance with GIS, E.P. Cox provided assistance obtaining references, and J.L.
Gagnon provided comments on the manuscript.
288 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 5, No. 2
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