Forest succession and prey availability influence the strength and scale of terrestrial-aquatic linkages in a headwater salamander system

Brian T. Greene, Winsor H. Lowe, Gene E. Likens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


1. Trophic linkages between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems are common and sensitive to disruption. However, there is little information on what causes variation in the strength and spatial scale of these linkages. 2. In the highly aquatic adults of the headwater salamander Gyrinophilus porphyriticus (family Plethodontidae), use of terrestrial prey decreases along a gradient from early- to late-successional riparian forests. To understand the cause of this relationship, we tested the predictions that (i) terrestrial prey abundance is lower in late-successional forests, and (ii) G. porphyriticus adults cannot move as far from the stream to forage in late-successional forests, thus limiting access to terrestrial prey. 3. We established 100-m long study reaches on six headwater streams in the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, New Hampshire. Three reaches were in early-successional forests and three were in late-successional forests. We conducted pitfall trapping for invertebrate prey in June and July of 2005, with three traps at 0, 2, 5 and 10 m from the stream at each reach. In June, July and August of 2004 and 2005, nighttime salamander surveys were conducted at each reach along ten, 10-m long by 2.5-m wide transects perpendicular to the stream. 4. Abundance of terrestrial prey was consistently lower in late-successional forests, suggesting that consumption of terrestrial prey by G. porphyriticus is affected by prey abundance. Contrary to our prediction, G. porphyriticus adults moved farther from the stream in late-successional forests, suggesting that habitat conditions in late-successional forests do not limit movement away from the stream, and that lower abundances of terrestrial prey in these forests may cause salamanders to move farther from streams. 5. Our results provide novel insight on the extent of terrestrial habitat use by G. porphyriticus. More broadly, these results indicate that major habitat gradients, such as forest succession, can affect the strength and scale of terrestrial-aquatic linkages. Application of this insight to the design of vegetation buffers along headwater streams would have widespread benefits to freshwater ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2234-2243
Number of pages10
JournalFreshwater Biology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2008


  • Amphibian
  • Food webs
  • Gyrinophilus porphyriticus
  • Headwater streams
  • Riparian forest


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