IMPACTS OF ROAD DEICING SALT ON THE DEMOGRAPHY OF VERNAL POOL-BREEDING AMPHIBIANS

Authors

  • Nancy E. Karraker,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, 250 Illick Hall, State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, New York 13210 USA
    •  Present address: Division of Ecology and Biodiversity, School of Biological Sciences, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China. E-mail: karraker@hkucc.hku.hk

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  • James P. Gibbs,

    1. Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, 250 Illick Hall, State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, New York 13210 USA
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  • James R. Vonesh

    1. Department of Biology, 1000 West Cary Street, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia 23284 USA
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  • Corresponding Editor: T. A. Relyea.

Abstract

Deicing agents, primarily road salt, are applied to roads in 26 states in the United States and in a number of European countries, yet the scale of impacts of road salt on aquatic organisms remains largely under-studied. The issue is germane to amphibian conservation because both adult and larval amphibians are known to be particularly sensitive to changes in their osmolar environments. In this study, we combined survey, experimental, and demographic modeling approaches to evaluate the possible effects of road salt on two common vernal-pond-breeding amphibian species, the spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) and the wood frog (Rana sylvatica). We found that in the Adirondack Mountain Region of New York (USA), road salt traveled up to 172 m from the highway into wetlands. Surveys showed that egg mass densities of spotted salamanders (A. maculatum) and wood frogs (R. sylvatica) were two times higher in forest pools than roadside pools, but this pattern was better explained by road proximity than by increased salinity. Experiments demonstrated that embryonic and larval survival were reduced at moderate (500 μS) and high conductivities (3000 μS) in A. maculatum and at high conductivities in R. sylvatica. Demographic models suggest that such egg and larval stage effects of salt may have important impacts on populations near roads, particularly in the case of A. maculatum, for which salt exposure may lead to local extinction. For both species, the effect of road salt was dependent upon the strength of larval density dependence and declined rapidly with distance from the roadside, with the greatest negative effects being limited to within 50 m. Based on this evidence, we argue that efforts to protect local populations of A. maculatum and R. sylvatica in roadside wetlands should, in part, be aimed at reducing application of road salt near wetlands with high conductivity levels.

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