Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation

8-2018

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.

Department

Biology

Degree Program

Biology, PhD

Committee Chair

Eason, Perri

Committee Member

Alexander, James

Committee Member

Lewis, Julian

Committee Member

Pearson, William

Committee Member

Yanoviak, Steve

Author's Keywords

cave salamander; caves; ecology; animal behavior

Abstract

The Cave Salamander, Eurycea lucifuga (Rafinesque, 1822), is a little-known species, yet a common inhabitant of caves in the eastern United States. Salamanders are often important components of ecological communities and ecosystems, influencing critical processes such as nutrient cycling and community composition through their predation on invertebrates. Cave-dwelling salamanders such as E. lucifuga may thus appreciably influence the relatively simple ecosystems and communities of caves. Any such influence may be particularly important because these habitats and the organisms that reside in them are often of conservation concern. I used non-invasive methods to study the demographics, movements, and habitat selection of E. lucifuga at Sauerkraut Cave in Louisville, Kentucky. I also conducted an experimental manipulation using clay models to test predation risk to Cave Salamanders in caves and forests in southern Indiana. I discovered that E. lucifuga have consistent and distinguishable spot patterns that can be used to identify individuals. Populations of this species may be much larger than previously thought, potentially contributing relatively large and seasonally variable biomass to spring cave systems. Furthermore, this species migrates seasonally within caves using abiotic environmental cues that indicate seasonal change, potentially shuttling acquired energy from forests to deep underground. I also demonstrated that Cave Salamanders likely use caves, and particularly cave walls, as a refuge from greater potential predation risk in forests. This research provides much-needed information on this species and is suggestive that cave-dwelling salamanders may have important ecological roles in subterranean environments.

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