Effects of annual removal of Plethodon cinereus on plant diversity in the E.N. Huyck Preserve and Biological Research Station
VanderHam, Ashley E.
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Red back salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) can be used as indicators of ecosystem degradation due to their sensitivity to environmental disturbances and are keystone species in forest floor microhabitat,s of the Eastern United States. This study is based on the removal of amphibians, most being Plethodon cinereus due to its abundance, from 12 of 24 plots evenly spread throughout three separate beech forests on the E.N. Huyck Preserve and Biological Research Station over a 10 year period. Plant communities of all 24 plots were surveyed during the summer of 2006 and plant diversity was calculated using the Shannon's Index. Plant diversity in the removal plots was significantly lower than the control plots. Diversity was partitioned into species evenness and species richness to see if either factor contributed to the lower diversity found in the removal plots. Although not significant, a trend was found in species evenness suggesting that removing the salamanders caused increased herbivory on the rare plants in the plots. The plant species with an abundance of 9 individuals or less, had a much higher absence in the removal plots than plants with higher abundance suggesting that these less abundant plants are the ones most preyed upon by insects. This study implies that the removal of amphibians, specifically Plethodon cinereus, can significantly alter the ecosystems in which they live. While it is known that salamanders are sensitive to environmental change, few studies have investigated the impact their extinction or decline may have on their habitat. This study provides data that can be used too conserve forest habitat and provides direction for future research.