Salamanders are among the few vertebrates that have successfully colonized and exploited subterranean habitats, demonstrating flexibility in behavior and physiology. However, our knowledge of the ecology and life history of many subterranean salamanders is poor because of the limits and challenges of studying organisms in subterranean habitats. The Grotto Salamander (Eurycea spelaea) is an obligate subterranean plethodontid salamander, endemic to the Ozark Plateau Ecoregion of North America, and a top predator in many caves. We conducted a 25-mo mark-releaserecapture study of E. spelaea within a 440-m section of a cave in Delaware County, Oklahoma to better understand the life history and demography of the species. We also examined this salamander’s association with another cave-dependent species, the federally endangered Gray Bat (Myotis grisescens). We found that Grotto Salamanders spend typically 2–5 years as larvae, although some individuals delay metamorphosis several additional years, and that adults could live at least 9 years. We estimated population size to be 305 ± 126 individuals between December 2001 and February 2002, but decreased during subsequent surveys to a low of 101 ± 48 individuals. Body condition varied seasonally; in general, body condition was greater from May to November, when bats were roosting and depositing fresh guano, and lower from December to April when bats were absent. Presumably, fresh guano produced pulses in nutrient availability and invertebrate densities, the latter of which are important food sources for E. spelaea. Declines in bat populations could have detrimental effects throughout subterranean food webs, including negative impacts on E. spelaea populations.
|Original language||English (US)|
|Journal||Herpetological Conservation and Biology|
|State||Published - 2014|