Dispersal may be particularly important for the regional persistence of metapopulations that experience local extinctions. Some amphibian species are structured as metapopulations. Long-term persistence of these species should depend on natural connections between local subpopulations through dispersal. We explored movement distances of fire salamander adults (Salamandra infraimmaculata), a locally endangered species, on Mt. Carmel, northern Israel, and investigated the implications of movement for persistence of populations.

During the breeding seasons (November-March) of 1999-2000 and 2002-2006, capture-recapture surveys were conducted around four breeding sites and along unpaved roads connecting them. Out of 300 adult salamander captures, 72 cases were recaptures. Most of the recaptures were in the same site as the initial capture. In eight cases (11%), however, salamanders were recaptured at least 400 m away from the first site. The maximum direct distances between capture-recapture sites (1100-1300 m) were greater than previously documented and indicated potential connectivity between breeding sites.

We then examined the potential implications of habitat fragmentation, i.e., isolation of a breeding site, on population persistence by calculating local extinction risks of one of the sites assuming it is an isolated population. Parameters were based on 18 years of count-based data. The high probability of local extinction found by the analysis highlights the severe consequences of fragmentation. Hence, we conclude that it is important to preserve the terrestrial habitats and promote landscape connectivity between breeding sites, in addition to the aquatic sites, in order to enable individual movements between sites and the possibility of a rescue effect.

In: Israel Journal of Ecology and Evolution