Calibrating abundance indices with population size estimators of red back salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) in a New England forest
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CitationSiddig, Ahmed A., Aaron M. Ellison, and Scott Jackson. 2015. “Calibrating abundance indices with population size estimators of red back salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) in a New England forest.” PeerJ 3 (1): e952. doi:10.7717/peerj.952. http://dx.doi.org/10.7717/peerj.952.
AbstractHerpetologists and conservation biologists frequently use convenient and cost-effective, but less accurate, abundance indices (e.g., number of individuals collected under artificial cover boards or during natural objects surveys) in lieu of more accurate, but costly and destructive, population size estimators to detect and monitor size, state, and trends of amphibian populations. Although there are advantages and disadvantages to each approach, reliable use of abundance indices requires that they be calibrated with accurate population estimators. Such calibrations, however, are rare. The red back salamander, Plethodon cinereus, is an ecologically useful indicator species of forest dynamics, and accurate calibration of indices of salamander abundance could increase the reliability of abundance indices used in monitoring programs. We calibrated abundance indices derived from surveys of P. cinereus under artificial cover boards or natural objects with a more accurate estimator of their population size in a New England forest. Average densities/m2 and capture probabilities of P. cinereus under natural objects or cover boards in independent, replicate sites at the Harvard Forest (Petersham, Massachusetts, USA) were similar in stands dominated by Tsuga canadensis (eastern hemlock) and deciduous hardwood species (predominantly Quercus rubra [red oak] and Acer rubrum [red maple]). The abundance index based on salamanders surveyed under natural objects was significantly associated with density estimates of P. cinereus derived from depletion (removal) surveys, but underestimated true density by 50%. In contrast, the abundance index based on cover-board surveys overestimated true density by a factor of 8 and the association between the cover-board index and the density estimates was not statistically significant. We conclude that when calibrated and used appropriately, some abundance indices may provide cost-effective and reliable measures of P. cinereus abundance that could be used in conservation assessments and long-term monitoring at Harvard Forest and other northeastern USA forests.
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