Keeping their secrets: Conflicting evidence on the status and trajectory of long-toed salamanders, Ambystoma macrodactylum, breeding in the Bow and Kananaskis Valleys

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Amidst worldwide habitat fragmentation and biodiversity loss, amphibians are the most at-risk vertebrates, with over 41% of species listed as threatened. In Alberta, long-toed salamanders, Ambystoma macrodactylum, have been listed as at-risk due to the likelihood of habitat loss and degradation, as well as their data deficiency in the province. In this thesis, I monitored 19 breeding groups of long-toed salamanders in the Bow and Kananaskis Valleys, 10 of which provided sufficient data for the further assessment of the future trajectory of the population network from multiple perspectives. I first addressed the health (scaled mass index) and stress (dermal CORT concentrations) of individuals in these breeding groups and found relatively low levels of dCORT and no significant variation in SMI or dCORT among groups. With my second objective, I investigated the potential synchrony of breeding and developmental phenology of these populations. I found breeding activity was more synchronous than larval development among these populations. Phenology of breeding and development are marginally influenced by both regional climate and local conditions. Next, I used genomic information from individuals at 12 breeding ponds to quantify the genetic structure of this network and to estimate contemporary dispersal rates among populations of interest which were then used to parameterize a population viability analysis. I did not find significant genetic differentiation among breeding ponds, or significant rates of dispersal. For my final objective, I used capture-recapture methods to estimate adult population sizes and survival rates using robust design models and accumulated other demographic rates for long-toed salamanders from published literature. I concluded this objective by running multiple stage-structured population viability analyses, to project the fate of this population network over the next 75 years under with various estimates of adult survival, dispersal, and potential drought scenarios. Collectively, these results provide a baseline for the trajectory and potential influential factors of these populations and highlight the complex and precarious nature of their future status.
Herpetology, Amphibian, Conservation, Phenological synchrony, Conservation physiology
Baumgartner, E. A. (2024). Keeping their secrets: conflicting evidence on the status and trajectory of long-toed salamanders, Ambystoma macrodactylum, breeding in the Bow and Kananaskis Valleys (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from