Climate change and shrinking salamanders: alternative mechanisms for changes in plethodontid salamander body size

Grant M. Connette, John A. Crawford, William E. Peterman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An increasing number of studies have demonstrated relationships between climate trends and body size change of organisms. In many cases, climate might be expected to influence body size by altering thermoregulation, energetics or food availability. However, observed body size change can result from a variety of ecological processes (e.g. growth, selection, population dynamics) or imperfect observation of biological systems. We used two extensive datasets to evaluate alternative mechanisms for recently reported changes in the observed body size of plethodontid salamanders. We found that mean adult body size of salamanders can be highly sensitive to survey conditions, particularly rainfall. This systematic bias in the detection of larger or smaller individuals could result in a signature of body size change in relation to reported climate trends when it is simply observation error. We also identify considerable variability in body size distributions among years and find that individual growth rates can be strongly influenced by weather. Finally, our study demonstrates that measures of mean adult body size can be highly variable among surveys and that large sample sizes may be required to make reliable inferences. Identifying the effects of climate change is a critical area of research in ecology and conservation. Researchers should be aware that observed changes in certain organisms can result from multiple ecological processes or systematic bias due to nonrandom sampling of populations.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2834-2843
Number of pages10
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015


  • INHS
  • Weather
  • Declines
  • Growth
  • Population dynamics
  • Sampling bias
  • Amphibian
  • Detection probability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Chemistry


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