Stephen C. Richter
Because of stream salamanders’ and macroinvertebrates relatively high abundance and complex life cycles, they are important trophic links and serve a critical role in transferring energy. Despite this importance little research has examined their communities’ structure in aquatic ecosystems of southeastern Kentucky. The primary objective of this research was to determine the structure of these communities across southeastern Kentucky and understand what factors impact their abundances and distributions. To address this, we sampled eight reference quality streams across the region three times during March–June 2014. Within each stream, we sampled a 100-m transect for salamanders, macroinvertebrates, water quality, and habitat measurements, including mesohabitat types, canopy closure, stream temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, conductivity, and streambed cover types. A principle component analysis (PCA) approach was used to create predictive models from the environmental variables, to predict for salamander and macroinvertebrate abundance and richness. We sampled 390 salamanders (155 adult, 235 larvae; 7 species) and 1,163 macroinvertebrates (8 orders, 33 families, 61 genera). Predictive models revealed trends of association between salamander and macroinvertebrate abundance and richness, as well as with habitat characteristics including stream width, presence of cover objects, and percentage canopy closure. This study provides information on the required habitat characteristics for these important stream taxa, which can be used to influence management decisions. By understanding the factors that influence community composition and distribution within reference quality aquatic ecosystems we can gain insight into what may be lost in Appalachia, a region of high disturbance and anthropogenic land use.