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Role of Temperature and Water in the Ecology of Lungless Salamanders

James R. Spotila
Ecological Monographs
Vol. 42, No. 1 (Winter, 1972), pp. 95-125
DOI: 10.2307/1942232
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1942232
Page Count: 31
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Role of Temperature and Water in the Ecology of Lungless Salamanders
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Abstract

Water economy and thermal relations of plethodontid salamanders were studied in the laboratory and in the field. Laboratory measurements included behavioral responses in temperature and relative humidity gradients, rates of dehydration and dehydration at various relative humidities and soil-moisture levels, and determination of critical thermal maxima by rapid controlled heating to a definite endpoint. Salamanders were acclimated to a combination of three temperatures and two photoperiods: 5@?C, 16 hr of light alternating with 8 hr of darkness (LD 16:8); 5@?C, (LD 8:16); 15@?C (LD 16:8); 15@?C (LD 8:16); 25@?C (LD 16:8); and 25@?C (LD 8:16). Three series of experiments were conducted on 20 populations representing 14 species. Critical thermal maximum increased with an increase in acclimation temperature indicating that the salamander's heat resistance was readily altered by its previous thermal history. Salamanders selected a definite range of temperatures and did not merely avoid extremes in the thermal gradient. Thermal preferenda were relatively stable for each species and were not significantly affected by either acclimation temperature or photoperiod. Rate of dehydration was dependent upon body size, drying power of the air, and ambient temperature. Interspecific differences in dehydration rates appeared to be related in part to differences in size. Species composed of small individuals lost weight faster than species made up of large individuals. As the vapor pressure deficit increased the dehydration rate increased. Dehydration was more rapid at higher temperatures. Rehydration rate increased as the percentage of weight loss due to dehydration increased and was more rapid at higher temperatures. Salamanders absorbed water from soil when soil-moisture tension was as high as 2.8 atm at 25@?C. All species absorbed water from unsaturated soil at similar rates that were dependent upon soil-moisture content. Salamanders in the humidity gradient responded positively to differences in the moisture content of the air, and all but one species were more than 70% successful in selecting the highest relative humidity available in the gradient. Interspecific differences were apparent, but were not always correlated with habitat preferences. Plethodon glutinosus did not show any specific adaptation in its thermal responses or water relations that would account for its widespread distribution in the eastern United States. Plethodon ouachitae and P. caddoensis apparently have survived in the Ouachita Mountains due to favorable microhabitats and their ability to burrow deep beneath talus-covered slopes during hot and dry summers. Surface activity of P. caddoensis is limited in the summer by hot and dry conditions in its microhabitat.

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