Do silvicultural practices to restore oaks affect salamanders in the short term?
Salamanders are an important ecological component of eastern hardwood forests and may be affected by natural or silvicultural disturbances that alter habitat structure and associated microclimate. From May to August in 2008 (pre- treatment) and 2011 (post-treatment), we evaluated the response of salamanders to three silvicultural practices designed to promote oak regeneration – prescribed fire, midstory herbicide application and shelterwood harvest – and a control. We trapped salamanders using drift fences with pitfall traps in five replicates of the four treatments. Only the southern gray-cheeked salamander Plethodon metcalfi and the southern Appalachian salamander P. teyahalee were captured in sufficient numbers for robust statistical analysis. We analyzed data for these species using single-species dynamic occupancy models in statistical software program R. We allowed changes in four covariates to inﬂuence extinction probability from pre- to post-treatment implementation: 1) percent leaf litter cover; 2) percent understory cover; 3) percent CWD cover; and 4) percent canopy cover. The ﬁnal combined model set describing extinction probability contained four models with ÄAIC < 2 for P. metcalﬁ and nine models with ÄAIC < 2, including the ' model, for P. teyahalee. For both species, the 95% conﬁdence intervals for model-averaged extinction probability parameter estimates overlapped zero, suggesting none were signiﬁcant predictors of extinction probability. Absence of short-term salamander response in midstory herbicide and prescribed burn treatments was likely because of minor or transitory changes to forest structure. In shelterwood harvests, any potential eﬀects of reduced canopy and leaf litter cover may have been mitigated by rapid post-treatment vegetation sprouting. Additionally, climatic conditions associated with high elevation sites and high amounts of rainfall in 2011 may have compensated for potential changes to microclimate. Continued monitoring of Plethodon salamanders to assess responses at longer time scales (e.g. > 3 years post-treatment) is warranted.