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Movement and Habitat Use of the Long-Toed Salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum) in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta Open Access


Other title
long-toed salamander
Ambystoma macrodactylum
PIT telemetry
PIT tag
road mortality
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Atkinson-Adams, Matthew R
Supervisor and department
Scrimgeour, Garry (Biological Sciences)
Paszkowski, Cynthia (Biological Sciences)
Examining committee member and department
Derocher, Andrew (Biological Sciences)
Vinebrooke, Rolf (Biological Sciences)
Department of Biological Sciences
Date accepted
Graduation date
Master of Science
Degree level
Population estimates for adult long-toed salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum) at Linnet Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, showed a 60% decline from 1994 and 2008 –2009. To prevent further decline, in 2008 Parks Canada installed four under-road crossing structures (tunnels) and directional fencing along the road bordering Linnet Lake to reduce road mortality, which was known to be high. Parks later learned that predacious fish had colonized the lake, likely during natural flooding. In 2010 and 2011, Parks removed and relocated 35000 fish from Linnet Lake over 11 days of trapping. Measures intended to restore wildlife populations to historic levels often go unmonitored, and success or failure is not systematically assessed. Long-toed salamanders are small and delicate, and are difficult to monitor when they inhabit the terrestrial environment during the 10 – 11 month non-breeding season. To determine the status of the Linnet Lake long-toed salamander population and investigate terrestrial movement patterns (orientation) and habitat-use, I conducted research in 2013 and 2014 at Linnet Lake and a nearby reference site (Stable Pond, 1.2 km away). I conducted a mark-recapture study at Linnet Lake by marking salamanders with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags, and I used radio frequency identification (RFID) antennas and cameras in tunnels to monitor use by tagged individuals and compare the two methods. I also used PIT tags to mark salamanders at Stable Pond and, using a home-made portable RFID antenna (scanner), I conducted “PIT telemetry” to locate tagged animals in the terrestrial environment at both sites and tested the scanners read range. At Linnet Lake, I found no increase in adult salamander population size from estimates made during the 2008 –2009 study and I found little evidence of recruitment when I compared demographic data to Stable Pond. Population estimates of 1380 (95% CI: 1138, 1702) in 2013 and 706 (95% CI: 575, 893) in 2014 indicate a declining population at Linnet Lake and raise concern regarding the viability of the population and urgency for conservation efforts. RFID antennas were 6.5 times more likely than cameras to detect a tagged salamander entering or exiting tunnels. Salamander orientation was non-uniform at both study sites, with movement patterns staying consistent between years at Linnet Lake and differing between age classes and as salamanders moved further from the shore at Stable Pond. Using PIT telemetry, I relocated 32 individuals in the terrestrial habitats around Linnet Lake and 80 at Stable Pond. I was able to locate and characterize nine overwintering sites and each was associated with decomposing tree roots. Tests of the portable RFID antenna’s read range in three substrates (soil, rock, water) at multiple depths showed the highest read range in water, and a non-linear effect of depth on horizontal read range. This study provides important data for monitoring the long-term effects of mitigation efforts at Linnet Lake, and demonstrates the utility of RFID and PIT tags for tracking small terrestrial vertebrates and monitoring the use of road-crossing structures.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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