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Ephemeral wetland restoration for flatwoods salamanders and associated species


In 2016, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) initiated an interagency effort to gather data on actively-managed pyrogenic ephemeral wetlands in the Florida panhandle. The purpose of this work is to assist public land management agencies with assessing the condition of pyrogenic ephemeral wetlands from year to year, and ultimately to use this data to establish quantitative wetland restoration guidelines. Our focus is on wetlands that are embedded in fire-maintained longleaf pine savannas, which historically experienced frequent wildfires with an estimated return interval of 1 to 5 years. In the absence of fire, these savannas—and the herbaceous wetlands within them—become encroached by shrubs and trees, which impede fire, suppress herbaceous plants, shorten hydroperiods, and negatively impact amphibians that depend on a herbaceous community.

After a century of fire suppression and attendant shrub encroachment, land managers throughout the panhandle now conduct prescribed fires regularly. However, without special additional effort, prescribed fires typically do not burn through ephemeral wetlands, due to moisture, excessive woody fuels, and inadequate fine fuels. Restoration efforts center around mechanical and chemical removal of encroaching shrubs and trees, removal of accumulated litter and duff, and promoting herbaceous plant cover, which is a correlate of ephemeral wetland occupancy for many amphibian species. Herbaceous cover is directly important as nesting and larval habitat for amphibians, and is also indirectly important, as it creates a fire-carrying fine fuel structure that maintains open habitat features and longer hydroperiods.

The frosted flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum) and reticulated flatwoods salamander (A. bishopi) are focal species for FWC’s wetland monitoring and management efforts, due to their status on the Endangered Species List. In 2009, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service amended its listing of the flatwoods salamander to include the frosted flatwoods salamander as a threatened species, and the reticulated flatwoods salamander as an endangered species (USFWS 2009). Loss and alteration/degradation of habitat are the main causes of population declines (USFWS 1999). Both salamander species depend on isolated herbaceous ephemeral wetlands situated within longleaf pine savannas to complete their life cycles (Gorman et al. 2009).

man walking through forest