Habitat quality affects the incidence of morphological abnormalities in the endangered salamander Ambystoma ordinarium

Carlos Soto-Rojas, Ireri Suazo-Ortuno, Jose Arturo Montoya Laos, Javier Alvarado-Diaz

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22 Scopus citations

Abstract

Identification of early warning signals previous to the occurrence of population decline or extinction is a major challenge for the conservation of animal species. Prevalence of morphological abnormalities in a population can be one of these signals. We registered morphological abnormalities in the salamander Ambystoma ordinarium. We also evaluated the relation between habitat quality and the prevalence of abnormalities in this species. We used scores from rapid bioassessment protocols (RBPs) to assess the habitat quality of streams inhabited by A. ordinarium. A preliminary survey indicated that of 29 streams where this species has been historically registered, 13 might have few or no A. ordinarium. The association between habitat quality and the incidence of morphological abnormalities was evaluated in these 16 streams. Of 502 sampled individuals, 224 (44.62%) had at least one body abnormality. Of the 224 individuals with body abnormalities, 84 (37.5%) presented more than one abnormality. Of a total of 5,522 evaluated morphological characters, 344 (6.74%) were abnormal. Partial loss of gills and missing digits were the most frequent abnormalities. Results of a binomial logistic regression indicated that the probability of a character of an individual to be abnormal was significantly associated with habitat quality; as the levels of the quality of the habitat increased, the prevalence of morphological abnormalities decreased. These results suggest that RBPs are a quick and useful method for assessing the habitat quality of streams inhabited by A. ordinarium. Given that RBPs provide rapid and cost-effective assessments of the ecological health of aquatic ecosystems, it will be important to test if the RBPs protocols can be used to rapidly assess habitat quality for other species of stream amphibians. The negative association between habitat quality and the prevalence of morpohological abnormalities that we found indicates that habitat condition plays an important role in the high number of abnormalities registered in A. ordinarium. Therefore, our results suggest that one of the several negative effects of habitat degradation on amphibians is an increase in the frequency of morphological abnormalities with marked consequences for the survival and general fitness of aquatic amphibians.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0183573
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume12
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - 28 Aug 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Soto-Rojas et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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