Plethodon hubrichti - Thurow, 1957
Peaks of Otter Salamander
Other English Common Names: Peaks Of Otter Salamander, Peaks of Otter salamander
Synonym(s): Plethodon nettingi hubrichti
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Plethodon hubrichti Thurow, 1957 (TSN 173658)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.102159
Element Code: AAAAD12290
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Amphibians - Salamanders
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Amphibia Caudata Plethodontidae Plethodon
Genus Size: D - Medium to large genus (21+ species)
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: Frost, D. R. 1985. Amphibian species of the world. A taxonomic and geographical reference. Allen Press, Inc., and The Association of Systematics Collections, Lawrence, Kansas. v + 732 pp.
Concept Reference Code: B85FRO01HQUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Plethodon hubrichti
Taxonomic Comments: With P. shenandoah, P. hubrichti formerly was included as a subspecies of P. nettingi; the subspecies were elevated to species status by Highton and Larson (1979). Whether P. hubrichti and P. shenandoah merit recognition as species distinct from P. nettingi is debatable (Petranka 1998), but these species generally have been accepted.

Mahoney (2001) used mtDNA data to examine phylogenetic relationships of western and eastern Plethodon and Aneides. She found strong support for eastern Plethodon as a clade, but monophyly of Aneides was only weakly supported in some analyses, though "the monophyly of this clade is not in doubt." Analyses indicated that Plethodon stormi and P. elongatus are clearly sister taxa, and P. dunni and P. vehiculum also are well-supported sister taxa. Plethodon larselli and P. vandykei appear to be closely related, whereas P. neomexicanus did not group with any other lineage. All analyses yielded a paraphyletic Plethodon but constraint analyses did not allow rejection of a monophyletic Plethodon. Mahoney recommended continued recognition of Aneides as a valid genus and adoption of the metataxon designation for Plethodon*, indicating this status with an asterisk. (A metataxon is a group of lineages for which neither monophyly nor paraphyly can be demonstrated.
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G2G3
Global Status Last Reviewed: 21Mar2018
Global Status Last Changed: 21Mar2018
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by calculator
Rounded Global Status: G2 - Imperiled
Reasons: Locally abundant, but with a restricted range in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia; potentially threatened by loss/degradation of habitat by incompatible forest management practices and gypsy moth defoliation. However, management regulations are in place to minimize timber harvesting impacts. As a montane species, it is vulnerable to climate change.
Nation: United States
National Status: N2 (05Nov1996)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Virginia (S2)

Other Statuses

IUCN Red List Category: VU - Vulnerable

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: 100-250 square km (about 40-100 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Endemic to Blue Ridge Mountains: Peaks of Otter region northeast of Roanoke, in Bedford, Botetourt, and Rockbridge counties, Virginia. Most of the known range is along the Blue Ridge Parkway within the Jefferson National Forest. Sharp Top, Flat Top, Onion, and Apple Orchard mountains and vicinity. Elevations above 550 m (Mitchell 1991); also reported as generally above 760 m (Bury et al. 1980) or 845 m (Petranka 1998). Patchy distribution but may be locally abundant (Kramer et al. 1993).

Area of Occupancy:  
Area of Occupancy Comments: Montane species only found in mature, deciduous forests at elevations greater than 442 m within 117 km˛ area.

Number of Occurrences: 1 - 5
Number of Occurrences Comments: The entire population is treated as a single occurrence; the area is well surveyed.

Population Size: 10,000 - 1,000,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Seasonally common, locally abundant (e.g., average of 450 individuals per 100 sq m in one plot; Kramer et al. 1993). Population estimate 4.5 salamanders/m2 with a 95% CI (Kramer et al. 1993). Home ranges typically less than 1 m2, median area was 0.6 m2 (Kramer et al. 1993; Mathis 1991). Although distribution is limited, P. hubrichti may be abundant within its range (Pague and Mitchell 1987). Current survey data are available and are now being analyzed for upcoming Species Status Assessment by US Fish and Wildlife Service (Rose Agbalog, USFWS, 2017, pers. comm.).

Percent Area with Good Viability/Integrity: Excellent percentage (>40%) of area with excellent or good viability or ecological integrity Viability/Integrity Comments: Mostly good condition.

Overall Threat Impact: High - low
Overall Threat Impact Comments: Sattler and Reichenbach (1998) found that clearcutting significantly reduced populations, due to emigration and/or mortality; juveniles appeared to be particularly impacted. Shelterwood cuts did not have any overall adverse impacts. Mitchell et al. (1996) found that timber harvesting practices do not eliminate this species but may diminish population size and diet quality. Because of very low dispersal rates, intensive timbering and habitat fragmentation could be highly detrimental (Kramer et al. 1993, Petranka 1998). Threats also include recreational development, defoliation by gypsy moths, and spraying to control gypsy moths (Mitchell 1991). Collection pressure heavy at a few sites, but no effect seen. Potential local threat due to firewood collection. As a montane Plethodontid species it is vulnerable to changing climate (Farallo and Miles 2016, Sutton et al. 2015). P. cinereus may outcompete P. hubrichti in sympatric areas after a disturbance event (e.g., timber harvest) and under changing climate (Farallo and Miles 2016; Reichenbach and Brophy 2017; Rose Agbalog, USFWS, 2017, pers. comm.). Bsal, Bd and ranavirus have not been detected in Peaks of Otter salamander; Matthew Becker from Liberty University is working on a project to look at emerging infectious diseases in P. hubrichti (Rose Agbalog, USFWS, 2017, pers. comm).

Short-term Trend: Relatively Stable (<=10% change)
Short-term Trend Comments: Likely relatively stable in extent of occurrence, unknown trend in population size, area of occurrence, and number/condition of occurrences.

Long-term Trend:  
Long-term Trend Comments: Likely relatively stable in extent of occurrence, unknown trend in population size, area of occurrence, and number/condition of occurrences.

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Moderately vulnerable

Environmental Specificity: Moderate to broad.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Protection Needs: Conserve mature hardwood forests, especially at low elevations that provide marginal environments where P. hubrichti can be potentially outcompeted by P. cinereus (Reichenbach and Brophy 2017) .

Distribution
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Global Range: (100-250 square km (about 40-100 square miles)) Endemic to Blue Ridge Mountains: Peaks of Otter region northeast of Roanoke, in Bedford, Botetourt, and Rockbridge counties, Virginia. Most of the known range is along the Blue Ridge Parkway within the Jefferson National Forest. Sharp Top, Flat Top, Onion, and Apple Orchard mountains and vicinity. Elevations above 550 m (Mitchell 1991); also reported as generally above 760 m (Bury et al. 1980) or 845 m (Petranka 1998). Patchy distribution but may be locally abundant (Kramer et al. 1993).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: endemic to a single state or province

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States VA

Range Map
Note: Range depicted for New World only. The scale of the maps may cause narrow coastal ranges or ranges on small islands not to appear. Not all vagrant or small disjunct occurrences are depicted. For migratory birds, some individuals occur outside of the passage migrant range depicted. For information on how to obtain shapefiles of species ranges see our Species Mapping pages at www.natureserve.org/conservation-tools/data-maps-tools.

Range Map Compilers: IUCN, Conservation International, NatureServe, and collaborators, 2004


U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
VA Bedford (51019), Botetourt (51023), Rockbridge (51163)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
02 Upper James (02080201)+, Middle James-Buffalo (02080203)+
03 Upper Roanoke (03010101)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: A lungless salamander.
Reproduction Comments: Egg laying probably occurs in June (Mitchell 1991).
Ecology Comments: Estimated density in a 10 m by 10 m plot was 450 salamanders; limited vagility; median home range size was 0.6 sq m (Kramer et al. 1993). It is unknown whether interspecific competition may be a limiting factor (Mitchell 1991).
Habitat Type: Terrestrial
Non-Migrant: Y
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: N
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Forest - Hardwood, Shrubland/chaparral, Woodland - Hardwood
Special Habitat Factors: Burrowing in or using soil, Fallen log/debris
Habitat Comments: Mature hardwood forest; mainly on north-facing slopes and in coves and shaded ravines, also rhododendron thickets; found primarily under downed logs and rocks, and among wet leaf litter, in middle to late successional stages of oak-maple woodland (Bury et al. 1980, Mitchell 1991). Often climbs into vegetation, especially ferns, June-September (Kramer et al. 1993). May be vulnerable to habitat fragmentation. Terrestrial breeder.
Adult Food Habits: Invertivore
Immature Food Habits: Invertivore
Adult Phenology: Nocturnal
Immature Phenology: Nocturnal
Phenology Comments: Forages openly on dark humid nights (Mitchell 1991). Surface activity occurred primarily between 2100 and 2300 h in spring, 2200 and 2400 h in summer, and 2000 and 2300 h in fall; surface activity increased with leaf litter moisture due to recent rainfall (Kramer et al. 1993).
Length: 16 centimeters
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
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Management Summary
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Stewardship Overview: The Peaks of Otter salamander is a narrow ranging endemic that occurs mainly on Forest Service land in the Glenwood Ranger District in Jefferson National Forest and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is a lungless woodland salamander and needs a cool, moist environment for respiration and to prevent desiccation. Because it occurs mainly on Forest Service land, the effects of timber harvest on the species are a concern. In 1997 the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service Blue Ridge Parkway and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signed a Conservation Agreement which facilitated cooperative management to ensure the survival of the Peaks of Otter salamander on federal lands. A Habitat Conservation Assessment for P. hubrichti was also developed and designated Habitat Conservation Areas on approximately 20,700 acres of federal land. Within the Habitat Conservation Areas there are primary and secondary habitat. Primary conservation areas are unsuitable for timber production, so the habitat is likely to remain largely intact. Although some timbering activities are permitted within the secondary conservation areas, less than 200 acres of the 7,350 acres have been cut or thinned, and these activities have generally coincided with research on the effects of different timber harvest treatments on P. hubrichti, enhancing knowledge of how the species responds to these types of activities. As a montane Plethodontid species, P. hubrichti also is vulnerable to changing climate (Farallo and Miles 2016, Sutton et al. 2015). A research need is to understand if P. cinereus may outcompete P. hubrichti in sympatric areas after a disturbance event (e.g., timber harvest) and under changing climate (Farallo and Miles 2016; Reichenbach and Brophy 2017; Rose Agbalog, USFWS, 2017, pers. comm.). 
 
There currently are no state or federal regulatory mechanisms that are in place to protect the species. All protections are self-imposed by the U.S. Forest Service and Blue Ridge Parkway. A Monitoring and Evaluation Report from 2004 on the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest Management Plan (page 81) stated that ?Current management provides for ecological conditions capable to maintain the salamander population considering its limited distribution and abundance. Overall, ecological conditions are sufficient on the Forest to provide for species viability (persistence over time).?
 
USFWS has initiated a Species Status Assessment for this species, led by Rose Agbalog. Initial draft available in 2018.
 
(Above informed by Rose Agbalog, USFWS, 2017, pers. comm.)

Monitoring Requirements: Conduct biennial monitoring of 2-5 occurrences.
Biological Research Needs: 1) Understanding emerging infectious diseases in P. hubrichti (research underway by Matthew Becker from Liberty University); 2) Understanding whether or not P. cinereus outcompetes P. hubrichti in sympatric areas after a disturbance event (e.g., timber harvest) and under changing climate (Farallo and Miles 2016; Reichenbach and Brophy 2017; Rose Agbalog, USFWS, 2017, pers. comm).
Population/Occurrence Delineation
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Group Name: Terrestrial Plethodontid Salamanders

Use Class: Not applicable
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Occurrences are based on evidence of historical presence, or current and likely recurring presence, at a given location. Such evidence minimally includes collection or reliable observation and documentation of one or more individuals (including eggs) in or near appropriate habitat where the species is presumed to be established and breeding.
Separation Barriers: Busy highway, especially with high traffic volume at night; major river or lake; other totally inappropriate habitat that the salamanders cannot traverse.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 1 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 3 km
Separation Justification: These salamanders rarely successfully cross roadways that have heavy traffic volume at night, when most movements occur. Rivers and lakes pose formidable impediments to movement and generally function as barriers, with the effect increasing with river and lake size. Treatment of these as barriers or unsuitable habitat is a subjective determination.

Compared to larger ambystomatid salamanders, the movements of plethodontids are poorly documented, but it is clear that home ranges tend to be very small (e.g., Marvin 2001), on the order of a few meters to a few dozen meters in diameter. For example, Welsh and Lind (1992) found that over six months, 66% of Plethodon elongatus males and 80% of females recaptured were in the same 7.5 x 7.5 m grid, and the maximum distance moved was 36.2 m. D. Clayton (pers. comm 1998) estimated that average home ranges may be as small as one square meter. Yet, on occasion, dispersing plethodontids likely travel at least several hundred meters. The separation distance for unsuitable habitat reflects the nominal minimum value of 1 km. The separation distance for suitable habitat reflects the limited movements of these salamanders, tempered by their tendency to occur throughout patches of suitable habitat and the likely low probability that two locations separated by a gap of less than a few kilometers of suitable habitat would represent independent occurrences over the long term.

Inferred Minimum Extent of Habitat Use (when actual extent is unknown): .1 km
Date: 10Sep2004
Author: Hammerson, G.
Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 21Mar2018
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Rev. Roble, S. (2018); Rev. Davidson, A.D. (2017); Pague, C. A., J. C. Mitchell, and G. Hammerson (2005)
Management Information Edition Date: 12Jan2018
Management Information Edition Author: Davidson, A.D. (2018)
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 21Nov1995
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Hammerson, G.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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  • Blackburn, L., P. Nanjappa, and M. J. Lannoo. 2001. An Atlas of the Distribution of U.S. Amphibians. Copyright, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, USA.

  • Brandon, R.A. 1966. Phaeognathus, P. hubrichi. Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles. 26:1-2.

  • Bury, R. B., C. K. Dodd, Jr., and G. M. Fellers. 1980. Conservation of the Amphibia of the United States: a review. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C., Resource Publication 134. 34 pp.

  • Frost, D. R. 1985. Amphibian species of the world. A taxonomic and geographical reference. Allen Press, Inc., and The Association of Systematics Collections, Lawrence, Kansas. v + 732 pp.

  • Highton, R. 1986. Plethodon hubrichti. Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles. 393:1-2.

  • Highton, R., and A. Larson. 1979. The genetic relation- ships of the salamanders of the genus Plethodon. Systematic Zoology 28:579-599.

  • Kramer, P., N. Reichenbach, M. Hayslett, and P. Sattler. 1993. Population dynamics and conservation of the Peaks of Otter salamander, PLETHODON HUBRICHTI. Journal of Herpetology 27:431-435.

  • Mahoney, M. J. 2001. Molecular systematics of Plethodon and Aneides (Caudata: Plethodontini): phylogenetic analysis of an old and rapid radiation. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 18:174-188.

  • Mitchell, J. C. 1991. Amphibians and reptiles. Pages 411-76 in K. Terwilliger (coordinator). Virginia's Endangered Species: Proceedings of a Symposium. McDonald and Woodward Publishing Company, Blacksburg, Virginia.

  • Mitchell, J. C., J. A. Wicknick, and C. D. Anthony. 1996. Effects of timber harvesting practices on Peaks of Otter salamander (PLETHODON HUBRICHTI) populations. Amphibian and Reptile Conservation 1(1):15-19.

  • Sattler, P., and N. Reichenbach. 1998. The effects of timbering on PLETHODON HUBRICHTI: short-term effects. Journal of Herpetology 32:399-404.

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