A Decision Support Tool for Repatriation of Aquatic Fauna: A Case Study Involving the Striped Newt (Notophthalmus perstriatus) at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

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The Striped Newt is a small salamander found in xeric habitats (e.g., scrub, sandhill, dry flatwoods) of the lower coastal plain and northern peninsular Florida. Though once considered "common," they are currently a candidate species for federal listing. 

A Decision Support Tool for Repatriation of Aquatic Fauna: A Case Study Involving the Striped Newt (Notophthalmus perstriatus) a

 St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

The Science Issue and Relevance: The Striped Newt (Notophthalmus perstriatus) is a small salamander that occurs in xeric habitats (e.g. scrub, sandhill, and dry flatwoods) of the lower coastal plain and northern peninsular Florida. Striped Newts were once considered “common” in Wakulla County, Florida, including at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (SMNWR). In collaboration with USGS hydrologists, we worked to lay the groundwork for a repatriation program in an area where the specific breeding habitats were never observed but must have occurred as adults were “common.”

Striped Newts are currently a candidate species for federal listing. SMNWR is currently managing the upland habitat for Striped Newts; however, the refuge is not able to focus on breeding habitat as it has never been directly observed. This study will provide managers with an inventory of depressional features optimized for amphibian breeding through appropriate landscape position, potential for sufficient retention of water for completion of all stages of breeding, and structural similarity to features where target species (e.g., Striped Newts) have maintained success.

Methodology for Addressing the Issue: Our hydrologist collaborators have successfully developed GIS-based models to identify wetlands at SMNWR that are likely to support breeding and successful larval development of Striped Newts. To increase the likelihood of successful repatriation, wet depressions that are currently supporting Striped Newt populations elsewhere (e.g., southern Georgia) will be evaluated using this modeling approach. This will allow physical and ecological similarities among currently used depressions and those that are potential repatriation depressions to be evaluated across locations. In turn, this could lead to a more structured decision making process regarding depressional areas where the available habitat is most similar to that where Striped Newts are currently located. The sites at SMNWR identified by the GIS model will soon be assessed for hydrological and biological suitability for a potential repatriation program of Striped Newts.

A Decision Support Tool for Repatriation of Aquatic Fauna: A Case Study Involving the Striped Newt (Notophthalmus perstriatus) a

USGS WARC scientists collaborated with USGS hydrologists to lay the groundwork for a Striped Newt repatriation program. 

Future Steps: The next step in this research would be to repatriate Striped Newts into a sample of the wetlands identified as being suitable for this species, then to follow the success of this effort by monitoring these newly established populations. This decision support tool can also be used for other imperiled species of conservation concern, such as the Flatwoods  Salamanders (Ambystoma cingulatum and A. bishopi), Tiger Salamander (A. tigrinum), and the Gopher Frog (Lithobates capito), which would help inform management decisions for these at risk species.

Publications:

Riley, J.W., D.L. Calhoun, W.J. Barichivich, and S.C. Walls. Identifying depressional wetlands and using topographic characteristics to infer hydroperiod regimes for pond-breeding amphibians. Wetlands: in review.

A Decision Support Tool for Repatriation of Aquatic Fauna: A Case Study Involving the Striped Newt (Notophthalmus perstriatus) a

GIS-based models identify wetlands that are likely to support breeding and successful larval development of Striped Newts.