Southern Gray-cheeked Salamander, South Mountain Graycheek Salamander
© 2020 Kamil Szepanski (1 of 10)
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: United States
Plethodon meridianus Highton and Peabody, 2000
David A. Beamer1
1. Historical versus Current Distribution. South Mountain gray-cheeked salamanders (Plethodon meridianus) are known from Piedmont Province sites in Burke, Cleveland, and Rutherford counties in North Carolina. South Mountain gray-cheeked salamanders are members of the Plethodon jordani complex. Because this species was described only recently, and because there have been no studies of "Plethodon jordani" from this region, historical distributional data that could be used to compare to current distributional data are lacking. Highton (1972) describes South Mountain gray-cheeked salamanders as “quite common throughout” the South Mountains.
2. Historical versus Current Abundance. Generally unknown, but Highton (2003) sampled two counties (Burke and Cleveland counties, North Carolina) in the decade between 1967 and 1977 and again in 1997, and found recent numbers to be reduced compared to historical numbers. Additional surveys will make it possible to determine whether these data reflect true declines or natural habitat fluctuations.
3. Life History Features. Because this species has been described only recently, little specific information is known about the life history and natural history features of South Mountain gray-cheeked salamanders. Until recently, South Mountain gray-cheeked salamanders were considered to be Jordan's salamanders (P. jordani).
A. Breeding. Reproduction is terrestrial.
i. Breeding migrations. Unlikely; breeding migrations are unknown in any Plethodon species.
ii. Breeding habitat. Unknown.
i. Egg deposition sites. Unknown.
ii. Clutch size. Unknown.
C. Direct Development.
i. Brood sites. Unknown.
ii. Parental care. Unknown, but it is likely that females brood, as with other species of Plethodon.
D. Juvenile Habitat. Unknown, but likely to be similar to adults.
E. Adult Habitat. Unreported, but as with other species in the P. jordani complex, South Mountain gray-cheeked salamanders undoubtedly are active on the forest floor. They seek shelter under cover objects during the day and are nocturnally active, with activity levels proportional to moisture levels. Animals likely avoid dry and cold extremes by moving to underground sites.
F. Home Range Size. Unknown, but likely to be small.
G. Territories. At least some members of the Plethodon jordani complex aggressively defend territories (Thurow, 1976); it is unknown whether South Mountain gray-cheeked salamanders establish and defend territories.
H. Aestivation/Avoiding Dessication. Unstudied, but in response to dry conditions, animals likely move to moist (deep) subterranean sites.
I. Seasonal Migrations. Unstudied, but animals likely respond to seasonal shifts to dry and cold conditions by moving from forest floor-habitats to underground sites, and then back up to the surface when conditions become favorable.
J. Torpor (Hibernation). Unstudied, but in response to cold conditions, animals likely move to warm (deep) subterranean sites.
K. Interspecific Associations/Exclusions. South Mountain gray-cheeked salamanders are found in association with white-spotted slimy salamanders (P. cylindraceus) throughout their range. There is no evidence of hybridization between South Mountain gray-cheeked salamanders and white-spotted slimy salamanders (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
L. Age/Size at Reproductive Maturity. Unknown. Females may be larger. The two largest animals (73 mm SVL) from the type locality were females (Highton and Peabody, 2000). The holotype is a 63 mm male SVL; the allotype is a 70 mm female. Other animals from the type locality ranged from 50–72 mm.
M. Longevity. Unknown.
N. Feeding Behavior. Unreported, but as with other species of Plethodon, animals likely feed at night, with activity proportional to moisture levels. Prey items include small invertebrates, especially insects, that inhabit or are associated with the forest floor.
O. Predators. Likely to include forest-dwelling snakes, birds, and small mammals.
P. Anti-Predator Mechanisms. All Plethodon produce noxious skin secretions (Brodie, 1977).
Q. Diseases. Unknown.
R. Parasites. Unknown.
4. Conservation. South Mountain gray-cheeked salamanders are not protected by North Carolina, the only state within their range. Among members of the P. jordani complex, South Mountain gray-cheeked salamanders have one of the smallest distributions, and within their range, there are only a few state properties that contain suitable habitat for these salamanders.
Presently, some habitat within the range of South Mountain gray-cheeked salamanders is preserved as game lands. However, recently much of this land has been converted to housing. Suitable habitat will likely remain in South Mountain State Park, but it is likely that habitat in this already restricted area will be lost in the near future. This area is isolated both geographically and physiographically from areas that contain other members of this complex. As such, the South Mountains are a likely candidate to contain other endemic species and should be a conservation priority.
As with all species of Plethodon, South Mountain gray-cheeked salamanders do not migrate to breeding grounds and they have small home ranges. Thus, they can exist in habitats of smaller size than many other amphibian species. Conservation activities that promote mature closed-canopy forests should benefit this species.
Acknowledgments. Thanks to Richard Highton, who reviewed this account and gave us the benefit of his insight and experience.
1David A. Beamer
2Michael J. Lannoo
Literature references for Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species, edited by Michael Lannoo, are here.
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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2021. <http://amphibiaweb.org> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 18 Jan 2021.
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