Date of Award

Summer 7-7-2016

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Integrative Biology (MSIB)

Department

Biology

Major Professor

Thomas C. McElroy

First Committee Member

Joel R. McNeal

Second Committee Member

William E. Ensign

Abstract

Globally, amphibian species are experiencing declines at an alarming rate largely due to habitat loss, disease and climate change. Species with limited ranges are at an elevated risk of a significant decline in population numbers and extinction because of the inability to avoid and recover from these impacts. Long-term management plans are critical for conservation of species with small ranges; however, the knowledge required to develop effective plans is absent from the literature for many species. One such species is the Pigeon Mountain Salamander. The distribution of the Pigeon Mountain Salamander, Plethodon petraeus, is restricted to roughly 17 kilometers along the eastern flank of Pigeon Mountain in northwest Georgia. Consequently, P. petraeus is highly vulnerable to the impacts associated with amphibian declines, a fact that placed the salamander on the list of rare and protected species in Georgia. The distribution of P. petraeus is highly correlated with patchily distributed rocky outcrops, which provides an efficient management target. However, the development of an effective, long-term management plan requires an understanding of genetic population structure, gene flow, and habitat use patterns. Robust design mark-recapture methods and population genetics with cross- amplified microsatellites were used to further our knowledge of how this species is distributed. Mark recapture results indicated high site fidelity of recaptured salamanders and abundance estimates (average number of total salamander abundance in a single plot, 57.8) within two 25 x 25 meter study areas. Population genetic results revealed four distinct populations across the known range of P. petraeus and significant isolation by distance genetic structuring.

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