Forest management and conservation of an elusive amphibian in the Alps: Habitat selection by the Golden Alpine Salamander reveals the importance of fine woody debris
Publication date: 15 September 2018
Source:Forest Ecology and Management, Volume 424
Author(s): Antonio Romano, Andrea Costa, Sebastiano Salvidio, Michele Menegon, Elena Garollo, Karol Tabarelli de Fatis, Danio Miserocchi, Giorgio Matteucci, Paolo Pedrini
Amphibians are declining worldwide and one of the major causes of such decline is habitat loss. Forestry practices have a primary role in causing habitat loss and fragmentation, detrimental to amphibians. We studied the ecological requirements of a fully terrestrial and threatened amphibian, the Golden Alpine Salamander Salamandra atra aurorae, which is endemic to a small portion of the Italian Alps. This rare and elusive salamander lives exclusively in forest environments and forestry practices are considered among its major threats. We employed both a capture-mark-recapture (CMR) and an occupancy approach in fifty 400 m2 plots, within a managed mixed forest dominated by Norway spruce and to a lesser extent beech, and silver fir. Modelling salamander occupancy as a function of site-specific habitat features allowed us to understand the ecological requirements of this salamander and provide precise guidelines for forest management. The application of hierarchical models (occupancy) for evaluating forest management plans is highly effective, requires less effort and is less impacting methodology than CMR performed by searching for salamanders under shelters also in non-optimal weather conditions. Distance from open pasture edges significantly affects the distribution of salamanders while, at a smaller scale, brushwood piles, classified as fine woody debris (FWD, diameter from 1 to 10 cm), play a key role in providing suitable habitat for this endangered amphibian. The importance of FWD in the conservation of small vertebrates is generally poorly studied and probably underestimated. However, our results show that FWD should be considered as an additional element that has to be managed to enhance habitat suitability for this and, intuitively, for other small forest vertebrates.
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