Movement behavior is an important aspect of animal ecology but is challenging to study in species that are unobservable for some portion of their lives, such as those inhabiting subterranean environments. Using four years of robust-design capture-recapture data, we examined the probability of movement into subterranean habitat by a population of endangered Barton Springs salamanders (Eurycea sosorum), a species that inhabits both surface and subterranean groundwater habitats. We tested the effects of environmental variables and body size on survival and temporary emigration, using the latter as a measure of subterranean habitat use. Based on 2,046 observations of 1,578 individuals, we found that temporary emigration was higher for larger salamanders, 79% of which temporarily emigrated into subterranean habitat between primary sampling intervals, on average. Body size was a better predictor of temporary emigration and survival compared to environmental covariates, although coefficients from lower ranked models suggested turbidity and dissolved oxygen may influence salamander movement between the surface and subsurface. Surface population dynamics are partly driven by movement below ground and therefore surface abundance estimates represent a fraction of the superpopulation. As such, while surface habitat management remains an important conservation strategy for this species, periodic declines in apparent surface abundance do not necessarily indicate declines of the superpopulation associated with the spring habitat.
Bendik NF, Chamberlain DA, Devitt TJ, Donelson SE, Nissen B, Owen JD, Robinson D, Sissel BN, Sparks K. 2021. Subterranean movement inferred by temporary emigration in Barton Springs salamanders (Eurycea sosorum). PeerJ 9:e11246 http://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.11246