Habitat Use of Northern Pygmy Salamander (Desmognathus organi) and Southern Pygmy Salamander (D. wrighti) in North Carolina

Ivy Haas


The pygmy salamander is a rare endemic of the southern Appalachian Mountains. In 2010 the pygmy salamander was reclassified as two distinct species (Desmognathus organi and D. wrighti) with ranges divided by the French Broad River. Both species are listed as Federal Species of Concern and in North Carolina they are listed as State Rare. Currently, no quantitative data are available on the habitat utilized by D. organi and D. wrighti. In this study, equivalent-timed searches were conducted in 12 study sites for each species representing three forest types of different elevations. Spruce-fir forest sites occurred at elevations higher than 1645 m (5400 ft), northern hardwood forest sites ranged from 1310-1645 m (4300-5400 ft), and cove forest sites occurred at elevations lower than 1310 m (4300 ft). Habitat variables measured at each pygmy salamander location include distance to water, canopy cover, type of substrate, soil moisture, soil pH, type of cover object, cover object dimensions, and density of small and large-sized down woody debris. Habitat variables that were used by pygmy salamanders were compared to those that were randomly available in the surrounding area at each capture site. A total of 98 pygmy salamanders were captured (D. organi = 41; D. wrighti = 57) during the study. Fifty-two animals were found in spruce-fir forests, 26 in northern hardwood forests, and 20 in cove forests. Relative abundance of pygmy salamanders was significantly greater in spruce-fir forests than in cove forests, but no differences were found between spruce-fir and northern hardwood forests, or northern hardwood and cove forests. There were no differences between habitat attributes used by D. organi and D. wrighti. Pygmy salamanders exhibited a strong preference for round wood cover objects and selected sites with greater amounts of small and large-sized down woody debris than randomly available. No differences were found for any of the other habitat variables measured. These results indicate that the two species of pygmy salamanders utilize similar habitats, preferring high elevation forests in areas where there is an abundance of down woody debris.


Pygmy Salamander, Habitat, Abundance

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