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Habitat Management For Amphibians and Reptiles Who cares?

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who cares
Who cares?

“As a group [reptiles and amphibians] are neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad,’ but are interesting and unusual, although of minor importance. If they should all disappear, it would not make much difference one way or the other.”

  • Zim and Smith (1954), Reptiles and Amphibians: A Guide to Familiar American Species. Golden Guide Series.
who cares3
Who Cares?
  • Private Land owners
  • Wildlife Managers
  • Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC)
  • North American Amphbian Monitoring Program (NAAMP)
  • Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative (ARMI)
  • Frog Watch USA

Photo by Gabe Strain

why manage for herps
Why Manage for Herps?
  • Population declines
  • Important link in food web
  • Bioindicators

Photo by Gabe Strain

population declines
Population Declines
  • Amphibians
    • Extinction of 6 montane populations of leopard frogs (Rana pipiens) in Colorado (Corn and Fogleman 1984)
    • Decline of red-legged frogs (Rana aurora) in the Willamette Valley of Oregon since the 1970’s (Blaustein and Wake 1990)
    • Western spotted frog (Rana pretiosa) missing from 1/3 of its range since the mid-1970’s (McAllister and Leonard 1990)
population declines6
Population Declines
  • Reptiles
    • Decline of bunchgrass lizard (Sceloperus scalaris) due to grazing of native bunchgrass (Ballinger and Congdon 1996)
    • Collection of eastern box turtles (Terrapene caronlina) has led to declines in at least 16 states (Lieberman 1994)
      • 30,000 turtles collected in Louisiana since 1995
    • Number of northern populations of bog turtles (Clemmys muhlenbergii) reduced by 50% over the last 20 years (Copeyon 1997)
reasons for declines
Reasons for Declines
  • Introduced/invasive species
  • Habitat loss and degradation
  • Acidity, toxicants, and other pollution
  • Diseases
  • Climate change
  • Unsustainable use
rare or critically imperiled in wv
Rare or Critically Imperiled in WV
  • Eastern cricket frog (Acris crepitans crepitans, S2)
  • Streamside salamander (Ambystoma barbouri, S1)
  • Smallmouth salamander (Ambystoma texanum, S1)
  • Six-lined racerunner (Aspidoscelis sexlineata, S1)
  • Spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata, S1)
  • Eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, S2)
  • Black Mountain salamander (Desmognathus welteri, S2)
  • Red cornsnake (Elaphe guttata, S1)
  • Coal skink (Eumeces anthracinus, S2)
  • Broad-headed skink (Eumeces laticeps, S2)
  • WV spring salamander (Gyrinophilus subterraneus, S1)
rare or critically imperiled in wv9
Rare or Critically Imperiled in WV
  • Eastern kingsnake (Lampropeltis g. getula, S2)
  • Cheat Mountain salamander (Plethodon nettingi, S2)
  • Cow Knob salamander (Plethodon punctatus, S1)
  • Shenandoah Mtn. salamander (Plethodon virginia, S2)
  • Upland Chorus frog (Pseudacris f. feriarum, S2)
  • Northern red-bellied cooter (Pseudemys rubriventris, S2)
  • Midland mud salamander (Pseudotriton diastictus, S1)
  • Northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens, S2)
  • Eastern spadefoot toad (Scaphiopus holbrookii, S1)
  • Eastern ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus, S2)
  • Mountain earthsnake (Virginia v. pulchra, S2)
important link in food web
Important Link in Food Web
  • Large biomass
    • Salamander biomass in Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest equal to mammals and 2x that of birds at peak of breeding season (Burton and Likens 1975)
important link in food web11
Important Link in Food Web
  • Central link in food web
    • Preyed on by raccoons, birds, other larger herps
    • Prey on invertebrates, small mammals
  • Permeable skin (amphibians)
  • Dual life cycle or habitat use
    • Amphibians and semi-aquatic reptiles
  • Sensitive to habitat degradation (Gibbons et al. 2000)

Photo by Gabe Strain

why are amphibians and reptiles clumped together as herps
Why are amphibians and reptiles clumped together as “herps”?
  • Independent lineages that have been separated for 300 million years
  • Integument
    • Reptiles have scales, amphibians have glandular skin
  • Eggs
    • Reptile eggs covered by calcerous shells, amphibian eggs surrounded by gelantinous membranes
  • Home range
    • Reptiles move, amphibians don’t (generally)
  • Both ectothermic tetrapods
  • Occupy similar habitats
  • Equally vulnerable to habitat degradation
physiographic provinces
Physiographic Provinces
  • Appalachian Plateau
    • Largest area
    • Less extreme ranges of temperature and precipitation

Species restricted to:

  • Appalachian Plateau

Smallmouth salamander Map turtle

Kentucky spring salamander Smooth softshell turtle

Midland mud salamander Eastern spiny softshell

Blanchard’s cricket frog Ground skink

Ravine salamander Black kingsnake

Green salamander

  • Allegheny Mountains

Cheat Mountain salamander Mountain earth snake

  • Ridge and Valley

Valley and Ridge salamander Wood turtle

White-spotted salamander Spotted turtle

Cave salamander Eastern painted turtle

Upland chorus frog Corn snake

Eastern cricket frog Eastern kingsnake

Northern pine snake

wv amphibians and reptiles
WV amphibians and reptiles
  • 35 salamander species
  • 14 anuran species
  • 13 turtle species
  • 16 lizard and skink species
  • 20 snake species

Photo by

Dave Kazyak

Photo by

Dave Kazyak

where to start
Where to Start?
  • Identify and understand the area and species of concern.
  • What are the issues?
  • Justify and implement management options.
  • Monitor (ideally, many years)
goals and guidelines for landowners and land managers
Goals and Guidelines for Landowners and Land Managers
  • Ideal
    • To make amphibian and reptile conservation a primary objective
  • Maximizing Compatibility
    • Goal is to contribute to the conservation of herpetofauna while primarily managing their land for other uses
landscape scale and connectivity
Landscape Scale and Connectivity
  • Connectivity is important
    • The smaller the patch, the smaller the population size
      • Small populations more vulnerable to genetic and environmental problems
  • Many herps use different habitats during different times of the year
    • Fragmentation may prevent herps from accessing required habitat components
habitats important to herps
Habitats Important to Herps
  • Aquatic
  • Terrestrial

Photo by Dave Kazyak

seasonal isolated wetlands
Seasonal Isolated Wetlands
  • Marbled and spotted salamanders, wood frog
  • Vernal/autumnal pools, shallow depressions
  • Protect and restore – cannot be created
  • Avoid clearing surrounding native vegetation
  • Buffer zone management (500 feet or more)
wet meadows bogs and fens
Wet Meadows, Bogs, and Fens
  • Spotted and bog turtles, four-toed salamander
  • No draining, ditching, or damming
  • Mow grasslands around meadows at high blade and limit livestock grazing
  • Control encroachment
permanent wetlands
Permanent Wetlands
  • Snapping and painted turtles, northern watersnake, American bullfrog, green frog
  • Buffer zone of at least 50 feet (500’ for animals)
    • Habitat, prevents erosion, protects water quality
  • Leave logs, snags, and other woody debris
  • Do not stock with fish
  • Recreational use
small streams springs and seepages
Small streams, springs, and seepages
  • Dusky salamanders, box turtle, garter snake
  • Sensitive microhabitats – cool and clean
  • Watershed landuse critical
    • Avoid building roads too close, dumping, sediment runoff via construction, keep livestock out
  • Riparian corridor maintenance critical
    • Allochthonous/autochthonous inputs
    • Temperature and oxygen

Photo by

Dave Kazyak

Photo by Dave Kazyak

  • Hellbender, mudpuppy, spiny softshell and redbelly turtles
  • Floodplain management
  • Do not channelize
    • Backwater areas, sand bars
  • Riparian corridor important to maintain
  • Restrict public use to focal areas

Photo by

Ed Thompson

hardwood forests
Hardwood Forests
  • Woodland salamanders, ratsnakes and milksnakes
  • Fragmentation a serious issue
    • Careful placement of roads, crop fields, and other barriers
  • Dry season or winter timber harvest
  • Do not clearcut, limit use of monocultures
    • Intact understory, leave timber harvest slash
  • Protect wet areas in forests
    • Forested wetlands, streams
  • Hikers ok, ORVs not ok

Photo by Gabe Strain

spruce and fir forests
Spruce and Fir Forests
  • Cheat Mountain, Shenandoah, and Wehrle’s salamanders
  • Connectivity of suitable habitats
  • Maintain deer populations (understory)
pine forests
Pine Forests
  • Racerunner, fence lizard, skink, pinesnake
  • Fire regime important
  • Aquatic habitats critical

Photo by Gabe Strain

grasslands and old fields
Grasslands and Old Fields
  • Leopard frog, cricket frog, spadefoot toad, ribbon snake, cornsnake
  • Maintain open nature
    • Promote spatially variable canopy cover
    • Control livestock access
  • Fire suppresses succession
  • Mowing
    • November - February
    • 12 inch height
rock outcrops and talus
Rock Outcrops and Talus
  • Timber rattlesnakes, green salamanders
  • Protect from heavy use
  • Prevent erosion
    • Fills gaps between rocks
  • Fire to promote openness
caves and karst
Caves and Karst
  • Cave, long-tailed, slimy, and spring salamanders
  • Total darkness, no soil, cool and moist
    • Harsh environment
  • Protect water supply entering cave
  • 50 foot buffer around cave recommended
    • Habitat, prevents erosion
  • Restrict human use
agricultural lands
Agricultural Lands
  • American bullfrog, American and Fowler’s toads
  • Less disturbed areas within farmed areas critical
    • Successful population maintenance
    • Corridors connecting natural areas preferred
  • Provide vegetated buffer around water bodies
    • Do not mow right up to shoreline or streambank
    • Raise deck height of mower to reduce mortality
  • Keep livestock out of water bodies
    • Fencing around streams and ponds (include buffer)
  • Limit use of pesticides/herbicides
urban and residential
Urban and Residential
  • Northern two-lined salamander, garter snake
  • Protect and buffer remaining natural areas
    • Parks, stream corridors, other undeveloped areas
  • Historical water regimes should be maintained
  • Prevent point source pollution and dumping
  • Limit channelization
  • Educate public
developing a management plan
Developing a Management Plan
  • Learn about what you’re dealing with

- Preliminary surveys, historical records

- Use maps and aerial photos

  • Find compatibility with other wildlife and land management goals
  • Collaborate with experts and landowner
  • Measure success by monitoring
  • Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (parcplace.org)
  • Amphibians and Reptiles of West Virginia (1987) - N.B. Green and T.K. Pauley
enjoy amphibians and reptiles
Enjoy amphibians and reptiles

Show people how cool they are

Photo by

Jen Eells

Photo by Dave Kazyak