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Updated range map of an endangered salamander and congeneric competitor reveals different niche preferences

May 20, 2024

Estimating distributions for cryptic and highly range-restricted species induces unique challenges for species distribution modeling. In particular, bioclimatic covariates that are typically used to model species ranges at regional and continental scales may not show strong variation at scales of 100s and 10s of meters. This limits both the likelihood and usefulness of correlated occurrence to data typically used in distribution models. Here, we present analyses of species distributions, at 100 × 100 m resolution, for a highly range restricted salamander species (Shenandoah salamander, Plethodon shenandoah) and a closely related congener (red-backed salamander, Plethodon cinereus). We combined data across multiple survey types, account for seasonal variation in availability of our target species, and control for repeated surveys at locations– all typical challenges in range-scale monitoring datasets. We fit distribution models using generalized additive models that account for spatial covariates as well as unexplained spatial variation and spatial uncertainty. Our model accommodates different survey protocols using offsets and incorporates temporal variation in detection and availability resulting from survey-specific variation in temperature and precipitation. Our spatial random effect was crucial in identifying small-scale differences in the occurrence of each species and provides cell-specific estimates of uncertainty in the density of salamanders across the range. Counts of both species were seen to increase in the 3 days following a precipitation event. However, P. cinereus were observed even in extremely wet conditions, while surface activity of P. shenandoah was associated with a more narrow range. Our results demonstrate how a flexible analytical approach improves estimates of both distribution and uncertainty, and identify key abiotic relationships, even at small spatial scales and when scales of empirical data are mismatched. While our approach is especially valuable for species with small ranges, controlling for spatial autocorrelation, estimating spatial uncertainty, and incorporating survey-specific information in estimates can improve the reliability of distribution models in general.

Publication Year 2024
Title Updated range map of an endangered salamander and congeneric competitor reveals different niche preferences
DOI 10.1002/ece3.11262
Authors Jo Avital Werba, David A. W. Miller, Adrianne Brand, Evan H. Campbell Grant
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecology and Evolution
Index ID 70255130
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Eastern Ecological Science Center