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Extinction debt as a driver of amphibian declines: An example with imperiled flatwoods salamanders

November 16, 2016

A comprehensive view of population declines and their underlying causes is necessary to reverse species loss. Historically, in many cases, a narrow view may have allowed species declines to continue, virtually undetected, for long periods of time (perhaps even decades). We suggest that extinction debt is likely responsible for numerous (perhaps most) amphibian declines and that this perspective should be incorporated into the structure of amphibian research and management. Extinction debt, originally proposed to explain changes in species richness following environmental disturbance, also may refer to the proportion of populations of an individual species that is expected to eventually be lost because of habitat change. A conservation framework to address extinction debt focuses research on threats at the individual, population, and metapopulation levels. This approach will help enhance, restore, and protect specific processes and habitats at the proper scale by directing management to the most vulnerable level and stage of a species. We illustrate this approach using Flatwoods Salamanders, Ambystoma cingulatumand Ambystoma bishopi, which occurred historically throughout the Coastal Plain of the southeastern United States but have experienced a greater than 85% loss of populations in recent years. Reversal of these losses is possible only if conservation and recovery efforts encompass individual, population, and metapopulation levels. We illustrate our framework by outlining actions that could be taken at each of these levels to help guide conservation and management of amphibians with complex life cycles and provide options for how to prioritize conservation actions in the face of logistical and budgetary shortfalls.

Publication Year 2017
Title Extinction debt as a driver of amphibian declines: An example with imperiled flatwoods salamanders
DOI 10.1670/16-090
Authors Raymond D Semiltsch, Susan C. Walls, William J. Barichivich, Katy O'Donnell
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Herpetology
Index ID 70178385
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wetland and Aquatic Research Center