Date of Award
Bachelor of Science
Dr. Kristine Grayson
Studies in behavioral ecology provide critical information regarding a species’ territoriality, predator-prey interactions, and reproduction. Red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) are a polymorphic terrestrial amphibian whose behavioral interactions have long been studied to provide insights on the processes that structure salamander populations, which are often cryptic and difficult to study. However, research regarding the effect of coloration on these interactions is more limited, but potentially extremely important for studies of population dynamics and speciation in terrestrial salamanders. In this study, aggressive and submissive behaviors of adult male red-backed salamanders in five different color morph treatment pairings were observed to determine if differences in aggressive behavior are correlated with color morph. The effects of environmental conditions and size on aggressive and submissive behavior were also measured. There was no significant difference in aggression index between the color morphs, or between any of the treatment pairs. Pairing treatment had a significant effect on the duration of laying next to the other salamander, but the low sample size of salamanders that displayed this behavior may have skewed this result. Salamanders collected from cover boards with multiple adults underneath had significantly higher aggression indices than salamanders collected from boards with no other adults present. Sky conditions also had a significant effect on aggression index, but a low sample size of salamanders collected during certain conditions suggests that more research is needed on the relationship between weather conditions and behavior. This study’s findings contradict past research that found differences in aggressive behavior between color morphs, which indicates that salamanders in different populations and/or regions may display different behaviors. Future amphibian research and conservation efforts should thus be aware of potential population-specific behaviors within a species.
Aliferis, Taylor M., "The Effect of Color Morph on Behavior Interactions in Red-backed Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus)" (2021). Honors Theses. 1595.