Special Issue "The Ecological Role of Salamanders as Predators and Prey"

A special issue of Diversity (ISSN 1424-2818). This special issue belongs to the section "Animal Diversity".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 December 2021) | Viewed by 11498

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Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. Salvidio Sebastiano
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Guest Editor
Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra dell'Ambiente e della Vita (DISTAV), Università di Genova, Corso Europa 26, IT-16132 Genova, Italy
Interests: amphibians; salamanders; Plethodontidae; trophic ecology; subterranean ecology; population dynamics

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Salamanders are relevant components of many terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. For example, in fishless streams, larval or adult salamanders act as top predators, while in temperate forests, these amphibians act as mid-level predators that regulate the abundance and diversity of the invertebrate soil fauna and indirectly influence the degradation of the leaf litter. Salamanders may also be present in underground habitats (i.e., caves and the surronding subterranean network), which are among the least studied and most fragile ecosystems of the world. Salamanders are usually considered to be generalist predators at the population level, but they also display specialization at the individual level, in particular when prey resources available in the environment become more diverse. In addition, salamanders and newts have complex behaviors, bright colors, and are easy to maintain in captivity. Therefore, these amphibians are often used as model systems to better understand prey–predator interactions and the evolution of cryptic or aposematic defensive colorations, both in the wild and in the laboratory. This Special Issue provides an opportunity to highlight new research on the ecological role of salamanders and newts in prey–predator systems, their trophic behavior, and the evolution of their trophic niche in space and time. Particularly welcome are studies that describe the evolution of the antipredator behavior, individual trophic specialization, and the trophic strategies of single salamander species or complex multispecies guilds.

Prof. Salvidio Sebastiano
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • Salamanders
  • Newts
  • Trophic ecology
  • Individual trophic specialization
  • Predation
  • Aposematism
  • Antipredator behavior
  • Prey–predator interactions

Published Papers (9 papers)

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Editorial

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Editorial
The Ecological Role of Salamanders as Prey and Predators
Diversity 2022, 14(3), 218; https://doi.org/10.3390/d14030218 - 16 Mar 2022
Viewed by 575
Abstract
Salamanders comprise more than 700 living species, mainly found in the Northern hemisphere (i [...] Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Ecological Role of Salamanders as Predators and Prey)

Research

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Article
COI Metabarcoding Provides Insights into the Highly Diverse Diet of a Generalist Salamander, Salamandra salamandra (Caudata: Salamandridae)
Diversity 2022, 14(2), 89; https://doi.org/10.3390/d14020089 - 28 Jan 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1047
Abstract
DNA metabarcoding has proven to be an accessible, cost-effective, and non-invasive tool for dietary analysis of predators in situ. Although DNA metabarcoding provides numerous benefits in characterizing diet—such as detecting prey animals that are difficult to visually identify—this method has seen limited application [...] Read more.
DNA metabarcoding has proven to be an accessible, cost-effective, and non-invasive tool for dietary analysis of predators in situ. Although DNA metabarcoding provides numerous benefits in characterizing diet—such as detecting prey animals that are difficult to visually identify—this method has seen limited application in amphibian species. Here, we used DNA metabarcoding to characterize the diet of fire salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) (Linnaeus, 1758) in three distinct regions across the northwestern Iberian Peninsula. To test the efficiency of COI-based metabarcoding in determining salamanders’ diet diversity, we compared our COI-based results with results from traditional diet studies from neighboring and distant populations, as well as with recent findings obtained in a DNA metabarcoding study using 18S. Two COI primers were used in combination to investigate the potential impact of primer bias in prey detection. Our COI metabarcoding approach increased taxonomic resolution and supported a generalist diet in S. salamandra. Between primers, there were no significant differences in the diversity and richness of prey detected. We observed differences in the prevalence of prey identified between sampling regions both in our study and in other studies of S. salamandra diet. This COI metabarcoding study provides recommendations and resources for subsequent research using DNA metabarcoding to study amphibian diets. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Ecological Role of Salamanders as Predators and Prey)
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Article
Ecological Observations on Hybrid Populations of European Plethodontid Salamanders, Genus Speleomantes
Diversity 2021, 13(7), 285; https://doi.org/10.3390/d13070285 - 23 Jun 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 778
Abstract
Speleomantes are the only plethodontid salamanders present in Europe. Multiple studies have been performed to investigate the trophic niche of the eight Speleomantes species, but none of these studies included hybrid populations. For the first time, we studied the trophic niche of five [...] Read more.
Speleomantes are the only plethodontid salamanders present in Europe. Multiple studies have been performed to investigate the trophic niche of the eight Speleomantes species, but none of these studies included hybrid populations. For the first time, we studied the trophic niche of five Speleomantes hybrid populations. Each population was surveyed twice in 2020, and stomach flushing was performed on each captured salamander; stomach flushing is a harmless technique that allows stomach contents to be inspected. We also assessed the potential divergence in size and body condition between natural and introduced hybrids, and their parental species. Previously collected data on Speleomantes were included to increase the robustness of these analyses. In only 33 out of 134 sampled hybrid Speleomantes we recognized 81 items belonging to 11 prey categories. The frequency of empty stomachs was higher in females and individuals from natural hybrid populations, whereas the largest number of prey was consumed by males. We compared the total length and body condition of 685 adult salamanders belonging to three types of hybrids and three parental (sub)species. Three group of salamanders (one hybrid and two parental species) showed significantly larger size, whereas no difference in body condition was observed. This study provided novel ecological information on Speleomantes hybrid populations. We also provided insights into the potential divergence between hybrids and parental species in terms of size and body condition. We discuss our findings, and formulate several hypotheses that should be tested in the future. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Ecological Role of Salamanders as Predators and Prey)
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Article
A Midsummer Night’s Diet: Snapshot on Trophic Strategy of the Alpine Salamander, Salamandra atra
Diversity 2020, 12(5), 202; https://doi.org/10.3390/d12050202 - 17 May 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1207
Abstract
Information on the trophic ecology of the Alpine salamander, Salamandra atra, is scattered and anecdotal. We studied for the first time the trophic niche and prey availability of a population from an area located in Italian Dolomites during the first half of August. [...] Read more.
Information on the trophic ecology of the Alpine salamander, Salamandra atra, is scattered and anecdotal. We studied for the first time the trophic niche and prey availability of a population from an area located in Italian Dolomites during the first half of August. Considering that S. atra is a typical nocturnal species, we collected food availability separately for diurnal and nocturnal hours. Our aims were: (i) to obtain information on the realized trophic niche; (ii) to provide a direct comparison between trophic strategy considering only nocturnal preys or considering all preys; (iii) to study trophic strategy of this species at the individual level. In two samplings nights we obtained prey from 50 individuals using stomach flushing technique. Trophic strategy was determined using the graphical Costello method and selectivity using the relativized electivity index. During the short timeframe of our sample, this salamander showed a generalized trophic strategy. The total trophic availability differed significantly from nocturnal availability. Interindividual diet variation is discussed in the light of the optimal diet theory. Finally, we highlighted that considering or not the activity time of the studied taxon and its preys may lead to a conflicting interpretation of the trophic strategies. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Ecological Role of Salamanders as Predators and Prey)
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Article
Feeding Strategies of Co-occurring Newt Species across Different Conditions of Syntopy: A Test of the “Within-Population Niche Variation” Hypothesis
Diversity 2020, 12(5), 181; https://doi.org/10.3390/d12050181 - 07 May 2020
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 1037
Abstract
Intraspecific trait variation in generalist animals is widespread in nature, yet its effects on community ecology are not well understood. Newts are considered opportunistic feeders that may co-occur in different syntopic conditions and represent an excellent model for studying the role of individual [...] Read more.
Intraspecific trait variation in generalist animals is widespread in nature, yet its effects on community ecology are not well understood. Newts are considered opportunistic feeders that may co-occur in different syntopic conditions and represent an excellent model for studying the role of individual feeding specialization in shaping the population dietary strategy. Here, we investigated the diet of three newt species from central Italy occurring in artificial habitats in different coexistence conditions to test the predictions of the niche width (NW) variation hypotheses. Population NW did not vary among species and between presence and absence of coexisting species. An overall positive relationship between individual specialization and population NW was observed. However, this pattern was disrupted by the condition of syntopy with newt populations showing an individual NW variation invariant with population NW in presence of coexisting species, whereas it was larger in populations occurring alone. The observed pattern of newt behavior was not consistent with any of the proposed scenarios. We found a consistent pattern with the degree of individual specialization being (1) size-dependent (specialized individuals increasing within larger sized species) and (2) assemblage-complexity-dependent (specialized individuals increasing in syntopic populations in comparison to singly populations). Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Ecological Role of Salamanders as Predators and Prey)
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Article
Same Diet, Different Strategies: Variability of Individual Feeding Habits across Three Populations of Ambrosi’s Cave Salamander (Hydromantes ambrosii)
Diversity 2020, 12(5), 180; https://doi.org/10.3390/d12050180 - 06 May 2020
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 1240
Abstract
European cave salamanders of the genus Hydromantes are a group of eight species endemic to Italy and south-eastern France. Knowledge on the trophic niche of European Hydromantes is poor, and the few available studies only partially investigate their feeding habits. We performed an [...] Read more.
European cave salamanders of the genus Hydromantes are a group of eight species endemic to Italy and south-eastern France. Knowledge on the trophic niche of European Hydromantes is poor, and the few available studies only partially investigate their feeding habits. We performed an in-depth study on the trophic niche of the Ambrosi’s cave salamander (H. ambrosii), assessing the potential divergences among three different populations. All the populations had a similar diet composition, showing a wider trophic niche in fall compared to spring. In only one population, “true specialists” were present; however, in all three populations, generalist individuals always represented the larger proportion. Interspecific and intraspecific competition did not play an important role in determining individual dietary specialisation in H. ambrosii; contrarily, the characteristics of the surrounding environment seemed to be an important factor. The best body conditions were observed in the population located in the site where the non-arboreal vegetation cover was the highest. Besides providing new information on the trophic niche of H. ambrosii, we here showed that studies encompassing both intrinsic and extrinsic factors at the population level are needed to fully understand the trophic dynamics occurring among European cave salamanders. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Ecological Role of Salamanders as Predators and Prey)
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Article
Do Salamanders Limit the Abundance of Groundwater Invertebrates in Subterranean Habitats?
Diversity 2020, 12(4), 161; https://doi.org/10.3390/d12040161 - 20 Apr 2020
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 1906
Abstract
Several species of surface salamanders exploit underground environments; in Europe, one of the most common is the fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra). In this study, we investigated if fire salamander larvae occurring in groundwater habitats can affect the abundance of some cave-adapted [...] Read more.
Several species of surface salamanders exploit underground environments; in Europe, one of the most common is the fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra). In this study, we investigated if fire salamander larvae occurring in groundwater habitats can affect the abundance of some cave-adapted species. We analyzed the data of abundance of three target taxa (genera Niphargus (Amphipoda; Niphargidae), Monolistra (Isopoda; Sphaeromatidae) and Dendrocoelum (Tricladida; Dedrocoelidae)) collected in 386 surveys performed on 117 sites (pools and distinct subterranean stream sectors), within 17 natural and 24 artificial subterranean habitats, between 2012 and 2019. Generalized linear mixed models were used to assess the relationship between target taxa abundance, fire salamander larvae occurrence, and environmental features. The presence of salamander larvae negatively affected the abundance of all the target taxa. Monolistra abundance was positively related with the distance from the cave entrance of the sites and by their surface. Our study revealed that surface salamanders may have a negative effect on the abundance of cave-adapted animals, and highlited the importance of further investigations on the diet and on the top-down effects of salamanders on the subterranean communities. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Ecological Role of Salamanders as Predators and Prey)
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Article
Variability of A Subterranean Prey-Predator Community in Space and Time
Diversity 2020, 12(1), 17; https://doi.org/10.3390/d12010017 - 31 Dec 2019
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 1159
Abstract
Subterranean habitats are characterized by buffered climatic conditions in comparison to contiguous surface environments and, in general, subterranean biological communities are considered to be relatively constant. However, although several studies have described the seasonal variation of subterranean communities, few analyzed their variability over [...] Read more.
Subterranean habitats are characterized by buffered climatic conditions in comparison to contiguous surface environments and, in general, subterranean biological communities are considered to be relatively constant. However, although several studies have described the seasonal variation of subterranean communities, few analyzed their variability over successive years. The present research was conducted inside an artificial cave during seven successive summers, from 2013 to 2019. The parietal faunal community was sampled at regular intervals from outside to 21 m deep inside the cave. The community top predator is the cave salamander Speleomantes strinatii, while invertebrates, mainly adult flies, make up the rest of the faunal assemblage. Our findings indicate that the taxonomic composition and the spatial distribution of this community remained relatively constant over the seven-year study period, supporting previous findings. However, different environmental factors were shaping the distribution of predators and prey along the cave. Invertebrates were mainly affected by the illuminance, while salamanders were influenced by both illuminance and distance from the cave’s entrance. The inter-annual spatial distribution of the salamander population was highly repeatable and age specific, confirming a gradual shift towards the deeper parts of the cave with an increasing age. In general, the spatial distribution along the cave of this prey-predator system remained relatively constant during the seven-year study, suggesting that strong selective constraints were in action, even in this relatively recent subterranean ecosystem. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Ecological Role of Salamanders as Predators and Prey)
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Review

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Review
Reciprocal Role of Salamanders in Aquatic Energy Flow Pathways
Diversity 2020, 12(1), 32; https://doi.org/10.3390/d12010032 - 17 Jan 2020
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 1750
Abstract
Many species of salamanders (newts and salamanders per se) have a pivotal role in energy flow pathways as they include individuals functioning as prey, competitors, and predators. Here, I synthesize historic and contemporary research on the reciprocal ecological role of salamanders as predators [...] Read more.
Many species of salamanders (newts and salamanders per se) have a pivotal role in energy flow pathways as they include individuals functioning as prey, competitors, and predators. Here, I synthesize historic and contemporary research on the reciprocal ecological role of salamanders as predators and prey in aquatic systems. Salamanders are a keystone in ecosystem functioning through a combination of top–down control, energy transfer, nutrient cycling processes, and carbon retention. The aquatic developmental stages of salamanders are able to feed on a wide variety of invertebrate prey captured close to the bottom as well as on small conspecifics (cannibalism) or other sympatric species, but can also consume terrestrial invertebrates on the water surface. This capacity to consume allochthonous resources (terrestrial invertebrates) highlights the key role of salamanders as couplers of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems (i.e., aquatic–terrestrial linkages). Salamanders are also an important food resource for other vertebrates such as fish, snakes, and mammals, covering the energy demands of these species at higher trophic levels. This study emphasizes the ecological significance of salamanders in aquatic systems as central players in energy flow pathways, enabling energy mobility among trophic levels (i.e., vertical energy flow) and between freshwater and terrestrial habitats (i.e., lateral energy flow). Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Ecological Role of Salamanders as Predators and Prey)
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