New publication: habitat influences Spotted Salamander stress hormones

Spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) require vernal pools for breeding habitat. Limited protection and preservation of vernal pools makes suitable habitat creation important. Differences in corticosterone levels, a hormone associated with growth, development, and stress in amphibians, could indicate population health and habitat quality. Our objective was to determine if habitat characteristics in created vernal pools influence corticosterone levels of Spotted Salamander larvae. In May and June of 2015 and 2016, we sampled water-borne corticosterone levels of larval Spotted Salamanders in 34 created vernal pools constructed 1–5 years earlier. Using multiple regression, we determined the best model predicting corticosterone levels included larval total length, pool-water temperature, year sampled, and pool diameter. Pool-water pH, depth, and age; percent cover; and predator presence were not significant predictors. Annual variation in corticosterone levels and habitat characteristics, and positive associations with water temperature and salamander body size highlighted the importance of controlling for external influences. The negative association between pool diameter and corticosterone indicated that larvae in larger pools (up to 12.75-m maximum diameter) were less stressed and potentially healthier. These results indicate that pool diameter contributes to habitat quality and may be important when constructing vernal pools for Spotted Salamanders.

Millikin AR, Woodley SK, Davis DR, Anderson JT. 2019. Habitat characteristics in created vernal pools impact spotted salamander water-borne corticosterone levels. Wetlands. doi: 10.1007/s13157-019-01130-5.