In-stream habitat predicts salamander occupancy and abundance better than landscape-scale factors within exurban watersheds in a global diversity hotspot
The southern Appalachian Mountains have experienced rapid human population growth rates since the 1980s. Land used practices are shifting from rural to residential. The majority of development has been low density, and is often near biologically diverse areas such as National Forests and National Parks. The long-term effects of urbanization in the southeastern Appalachian Mountains are not clearly understood and even less is known with respect to stream salamander response to urbanization. In order to determine the temporal influence of exurban housing on southern Appalachian streams we sampled 27 first- and second-order streams in watersheds containing exurban developments ranging in age from 4 to 44 years, along with eight forested streams, over the course of two summers. We sought to determine if the relative age of an exurban development related to occupancy and abundance of southern Appalachian stream salamanders. Age of exurban development and other watershed scale variables were not top predictors of salamander assemblages, while local site variables such as salinity and undercut banks predicted the abundance of several species of salamander. Our results suggest local habitat improvements can be used to better conserve salamanders and stream ecosystems in an increasingly urbanized region.