Date of Award

12-2009

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Major

Wildlife and Fisheries Science

Major Professor

J. Larry Wilson

Committee Members

Matthew J. Gray, Lisa I. Muller

Abstract

The Pigeon River was severely impacted beginning in the early 1900s by a paper mill located in Canton, North Carolina. The mill discharged chemical byproducts into the Pigeon River until 1992 when the paper mill modified their processes. As a result, water quality improved but the status of salamander species in the Pigeon River was unknown. Worldwide amphibian declines over the last 20 years have drawn attention to the need for more research and a better understanding of species-specific habitat relationships. There is concern about amphibian population declines because amphibians are critical to the balance of ecosystems and are considered exceptional indicators of environmental health.

The objectives of this study were: 1) to conduct a baseline survey of salamander species composition in the Pigeon River watershed, 2) to determine if salamander populations differ above and below the Canton paper mill, and 3) to attempt to explain variance in salamander abundance, richness and diversity by comparing water quality and substrate characteristics among streams. Eight stations were examined on the Pigeon River, with four stations located above the paper mill and four stations below. We also chose three stations on each of four tributaries, Big Creek, Fines Creek, Jonathan Creek and Richland Creek. Snorkel surveys were completed in the summer of 2009. Five of eight species of stream salamanders were found that historically existed in Haywood County, NC: Eastern hellbender, Blue Ridge two-lined salamander, shovel-nosed salamander, black-bellied salamander and spring salamander. No salamanders were found in the main channel of the Pigeon River below the mill. Eastern hellbenders and Blue Ridge two-lined salamanders preferred substrates consisting of rubble and avoided bedrock. Percent rubble was the only variable retained in substrate models and was positively related to salamander abundance, richness and diversity. Conductivity, salinity, and water temperature were higher in the Pigeon River below the mill than at all other sites. Salamander abundance was explained by dissolved oxygen, pH, and stream width in water quality models. The results of this study suggest salamander abundance was negatively associated with the Pigeon River below the mill because of poor water quality and not habitat availability.

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