Managing the Extinction Risk of the Shenandoah Salamander

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The Shenandoah salamander is an endangered salamander that is at risk of extinction due to its small, high-elevation range, competition with the co-occurring red-backed salamander, and the predicted future climate in the Appalachian mountain range. We are working with multiple partners to understand the current status of the species, predict future extinction risk, and engage stakeholders in a structured decision making process to identify management actions that will minimize the long-term extinction risk of the species.

The Challenge:  In many National Parks, organisms at high elevation are severely threatened and may be sensitive to changes in changes in temperature and moisture gradients, which may result in species extirpation in high elevation habitats. Many species are specifically adapted to the unusual conditions typical of high elevation sites; risks of extirpation increase as conditions change. Compounding the risk is the extraordinarily small range of many high elevation species; such is the case with the endangered Shenandoah salamander.

The Science: We have surveyed the high-elevation habitat where the Shenandoah salamander (Plethodon shenandoah) occurs, described habitat, temperature, and moisture variables which relate to its distribution, and conducted experiments and observational studies to understand the role of competition and climate variables on the future distribution of the species. Along with the Virginia Dept of Fish and Game, US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, USGS, Smithsonian, and the University of Virginia, the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center has conducted Structured Decision Making workshops to identify possible management strategies for the Shenandoah Salamander.

The Future: To plan for future extinction risk, we are using a structured decision making approach to natural resource management. This approach results in clearly defined objectives, management activities linked to these objectives, and a monitoring program designed to better predict the Shenandoah salamander’s response to environmental variation, competition with the red-backed salamander, and the response to management activities. We continue to develop the decision to identify optimal management actions and decision thresholds, given projected climate forecasts. Ultimately, we will identify the combination of management actions which may best protect Shenandoah salamander populations from extinction.