Ephemeral wetland restoration for flatwoods salamanders and associated species
The Frosted Flatwoods Salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum) and the Reticulated Flatwoods Salamander (A. bishopi) depend on isolated herbaceous ephemeral ponds situated within longleaf pine savannas in order to complete their life cycles. Adults migrate from upland sites to breeding sites on rainy nights from October – December. 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. Loss and alteration/degradation of habitat due to fire suppression are considered the main causes of population declines.
Optimal breeding ponds are characterized by open canopies and dense herbaceous vegetation, characteristics that are perpetuated by frequent prescribed fires. The presence of basal rosette-forming herbaceous species such as pipeworts (Eriocaulon spp), witchgrasses (Dichanthelium spp.), and yelloweyed grasses (Xyris spp) are optimal for egg deposition. Additional microhabitat requirements include the vertical structure provided by the culms of beaksedges (Rhynchospora spp.) and fleabanes (Erigeron spp.) , which function as refugia for larvae. These plants typically occur in the ecotone between the wetland and surrounding upland wiregrass savanna. Adult salamanders and recent metamorphs have also been observed using wiregrass (Aristida stricta) and other graminoids in these ecotones.
All life stages are of the flatwoods salamander are clearly tied to the herbaceous ecotones surrounding these ephemeral ponds, but there has been little quantitative research conducted on their vegetative characteristics, especially with regard to how they respond to habitat management actions. The purpose of this project is to quantify change over time in vegetation characteristics—such as plant species composition, abundance, and distribution—in ephemeral wetlands that are undergoing restoration and fire reintroduction to improve habitat characteristics historically associated with flatwoods salamander occupancy.