Life history differences influence the impacts of drought on two pond-breeding salamanders


  • Corresponding Editor: T. W. J. Garner.


Drought is a strong density-independent environmental filter that contributes to population regulation and other ecological processes. Not all species respond similarly to drought, and the overall impacts can vary depending on life histories. Such differences can necessitate management strategies that incorporate information on individual species to maximize conservation success. We report the effects of a short-term drought on occupancy and reproductive success of two pond-breeding salamanders that differ in breeding phenology (fall vs. spring breeder) across an active military base landscape in Missouri, USA. We surveyed ~200 ponds for the presence of eggs, larvae, and metamorphs from 2011 to 2013. This period coincided with before, during, and after a severe drought that occurred in 2012. The two species showed contrasting responses to drought, where high reproductive failure (34% of ponds) was observed for the spring breeder during a single drought year. Alternatively, the fall breeder only showed a cumulative 8% failure over two years. The number of breeding ponds available for use in the fall decreased during the drought due to pond drying and/or a lack of re-filling. Estimates of occupancy probability declined for the fall-breeding salamander between 2012 and 2013, whereas occupancy probability estimates of the spring breeder increased post-drought. The presence of fish, hydroperiod, the amount of forest cover surrounding ponds, and canopy cover were all found to affect estimates of occupancy probabilities of each species. Pond clustering (distance to nearest pond and the number of ponds within close proximity), hydroperiod, forest cover, and canopy cover influenced both estimates of colonization and extinction probabilities. Our results show life history variation can be important in determining the relative susceptibility of a species to drought conditions, and that sympatric species experiencing the same environmental conditions can respond differently. Consideration of the spatial network and configuration of habitat patches that act as refuges under extreme environmental conditions will improve conservation efforts, such as the placement of permanent ponds for aquatic organisms. A better awareness of species-specific tolerances to environmental filters such as drought can lead to improved management recommendations to conserve and promote habitat for a greater diversity of species across landscapes of spatially connected populations.