Lethal Effects of Water Quality on Threatened California Salamanders but Not on Co-Occurring Hybrid Salamanders

Maureen E. Ryan, Jarrett R. Johnson, Benjamin M. Fitzpatrick, Linda J Lowenstine, Angela M. Picco, H. Bradley Shaffer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Biological invasions and habitat alteration are often detrimental to native species, but their interactions are difficult to predict. Interbreeding between native and introduced species generates novel genotypes and phenotypes, and human land use alters habitat structure and chemistry. Both invasions and habitat alteration create new biological challenges and opportunities. In the intensively farmed Salinas Valley, California (U.S.A.), threatened California tiger salamanders (Ambystoma californiense) have been replaced by hybrids between California tiger salamander and introduced barred tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum mavortium). We conducted an enclosure experiment to examine the effects habitat modification and relative frequency of hybrid and native California tiger salamanders have on recruitment of salamanders and their prey, Pacific chorus frogs (Pseudacris regilla). We tested whether recruitment differed among genetic classes of tiger salamanders (hybrid or native) and pond hydroperiod (seasonal or perennial). Roughly 6 weeks into the experiment, 70% (of 378 total) of salamander larvae died in 4 out of 6 ponds. Native salamanders survived (n = 12) in these ponds only if they had metamorphosed prior to the die-offs. During die-offs, all larvae of native salamanders died, whereas 56% of hybrid larvae died. We necropsied native and hybrid salamanders, tested water quality, and queried the California Department of Pesticide Regulation database to investigate possible causes of the die-offs. Salamander die-offs, changes in the abundance of other community members (invertebrates, algae, and cyanobacteria), shifts in salamander sex ratio, and patterns of pesticide application in adjacent fields suggest that pesticide use may have contributed to die-offs. That all survivors were hybrids suggests that environmental stress may promote rapid displacement of native genotypes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-102
Number of pages8
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2013


  • Agriculture
  • Ambystoma
  • Californiense
  • Die-off
  • Pesticide
  • Tigrinum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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