Sweeten, S.E., and W.M. Ford. 2015. Effects of Microhabitat and Land Use on Stream Salamander Abundance in the Southwest Virginia Coalfields. 2nd Proceedings of Environmental Considerations in Energy Production. Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, Inc, Englewood, Colorado, USA. 19 p.Considerations in Energy Production (in review).
Large-scale land uses such as residential wastewater discharge and coal mining practices, particularly surface coal extraction and associated valley fills, are of particular ecological concern in central Appalachia. Identification and quantification of both alterations across scales are a necessary first-step to mitigate negative consequences to biota. In central Appalachian headwater streams absent of fish, salamanders are the dominant, most abundant vertebrate predator providing a significant intermediate trophic role. Stream salamander species are considered to be sensitive to aquatic stressors and environmental alterations, and past research has shown linkages among microhabitat parameters, large-scale land use such as urbanization and logging with salamander abundances. However, little is known about these linkages in the coalfields of central Appalachia. In the summer of 2013, we visited 70 sites (sampled three times each) in the southwest Virginia coalfields to survey salamanders and quantify stream and riparian microhabitat parameters. Using an information-theoretic framework we compared the effects of microhabitat and large-scale land use on salamander abundances. Our findings indicate that dusky salamander (Desmognathus spp.) abundances are more correlated to microhabitat parameters such as canopy cover than to subwatershed land uses. Brook salamander (Eurycea spp.) abundances show strong negative associations to the suspended sediments and stream substrate embeddedness. Neither Desmognathus spp. nor Eurycea spp. abundances were influenced by water conductivity. These suggest protection or restoration of riparian habitats and erosion control is an important conservation component for maintaining stream salamanders in the mined landscapes of central Appalachia