Population models depend on reliable estimates of vital rates, yet for many taxa, such estimates and how they vary in response to spatial or temporal environmental gradients are lacking. The goal of this review was to determine whether existing estimates of vital rates for temperate, direct-developing plethodontid salamanders (subfamily Plethodontinae) could be used to reasonably project values for populations or species where such estimates are lacking, or whether current estimates are biased in a manner that limits their utility. We synthesized current knowledge of stage-specific survival rates, age- and size-at-maturity at first clutch, and clutch frequency. We tested for expected correlations among published vital rates (e.g., age at maturity and survival) and between vital rates and factors such as body size or latitude. We used matrix projection models to judge whether published estimates were reasonably possible for stable salamander populations. The largest number of published vital rates were for clutch size, clutch frequency (proportion of females with clutches), size at maturity or first clutch, and age at maturity or first clutch, though the latter vital rate is primarily inferred from size distribution and growth rate data. Among these vital rates, we found expected correlations with body size and latitude suggesting these rates were reasonable and somewhat predictable among species or populations. In contrast, there were few estimates of egg hatch rate or juvenile or adult survival. Hatch and survival rate estimates were widely variable; estimates seldom included measures of uncertainty, but when uncertainty measurements were included, they were generally high. Based on projection models, few survival estimates were likely unbiased or realistic for stable populations given other salamander vital rates. Additionally, few studies quantified how vital rates vary with spatial or temporal environmental gradients. We outline the key knowledge gaps that limit basic demographic modeling of these remarkably common, influential, and otherwise well-studied salamanders, and make recommendations for future research efforts.
Review and Synthesis of Estimated Vital Rates for Terrestrial Salamanders in the Family Plethodontidae
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Jillian S. Howard, John C. Maerz; Review and Synthesis of Estimated Vital Rates for Terrestrial Salamanders in the Family Plethodontidae. Ichthyology & Herpetology 1 December 2021; 109 (4): 929–939. doi: https://doi.org/10.1643/h2020079
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