Impact of Invasive Plants on Abundance and Fitness of Salamanders

EPA Grant Number: R828902
Title: Impact of Invasive Plants on Abundance and Fitness of Salamanders
Investigators: Blossey, Bernd
Current Investigators: Blossey, Bernd , Maerz, John C. , Liebherr, James K. , Nuzzo, Victoria
Institution: Cornell University
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: August 3, 2001 through August 2, 2004
Project Amount: $446,959
RFA: Exploratory Research to Anticipate Future Environmental Issues (2000) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Water , Ecosystems


With increasing numbers of invasive plant species spreading through agricultural and natural areas in North America, economic and natural resource losses grow exponentially. At present, we lack any systematic approach or methodology to assess the impact of more then 5,000 known naturalized plant species on native ecosystems. The spread of non-indigenous plant species coincides with dramatically declining amphibian populations; however, no study has been attempted to investigate whether these two phenomena are linked.

The first objective of our work is to assess whether changes in vegetation structure and composition as a result of invasion by an herb (garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata), a grass (Microstegium vimineum) and a shrub (bush honeysuckles Lonicera tartarica, L. mackii) affect performance (survival, fecundity) and abundance of red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) in Northeastern forests. A second objective is to assess whether amphibian taxa, particularly salamanders may function as ?bioindicators' to assess the impact of plant invasion.


We hypothesize than changes in diversity and composition of vegetation communities will result in changes in invertebrate communities (salamander prey) that will negatively affect salamanders. Invaded areas should show a reduced invertebrate abundance and richness resulting in reduced abundance and performance of salamanders. We will use vegetation analyses to assess plant species composition and diversity, litter samples to extract invertebrates from forest floors, and monitor performance of individually marked salamanders under coverboards in invaded and uninvaded patches.

Expected Results:

The anticipated results will help identify: whether the selected plant species, considered to be major invasive species, actually have any impact on native communities; whether life form (grass, herb, shrub) makes a difference in the impact; and whether amphibian populations are affected by non-indigenous plant invasions. If amphibian monitoring using coverboards could be utilized to assess the impact of plant invaders (at least in forests) managers would gain an important relatively simple methodology for ranking non-native species. In addition, if non-indigenous plant species negatively affect amphibians, major efforts in restoration and recovery of declining amphibian populations should be directed to restoring native plant communities and removal of non-indigenous plants.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 32 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

invasive species, salamanders, invertebrates, garlic mustard, NY., RFA, Scientific Discipline, Geographic Area, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, amphibians, State, Ecological Risk Assessment, Biology, Exp. Research/future, Futures, emerging environmental problems, bioindicator, biodiversity, forest, biopollution, vegetation, amphibian, salamanders, invasvie species, exploratory research, invasive species, ecological dynamics, invasive plants, amphibian bioindicator, futures research

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2002 Progress Report
  • 2003
  • Final Report