Honors Theses


Maggie Hantak, Ph.D.



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Honors Thesis


Human modified landscapes can provide challenging new environments that can lead to rapid changes in species traits. In temperate forest ecosystems, salamanders play a critical role in forest floor dynamics, but populations are now faced with rapid habitat change, which can lead to local extinction events unless species can adapt behaviorally. The Eastern Red-backed Salamander, Plethodon cinereus, is the most common salamander species in the northeastern United States and can serve as a model species for examining the effects of anthropogenic change. Further, the Eastern Red-backed Salamander poses two common color morphs (striped and unstriped) that appear to differ in their responses to environmental change. Here, I investigate how proxies for urbanization differentially influence behavioral responses of the two color morphs of the Eastern Red-backed Salamander. I collected 20 striped and 20 unstriped individuals from Caesar Creek State Park, Ohio. I exposed individuals to a novel substrate (cement paver) and novel objects (anthropogenic litter items) to test exploration and neophobia behaviors. Based on previous studies, I predicted striped morphs would display more bold behaviors and be more willing to interact with novel objects. Using linear mixed-effects models, I found unstriped morphs were significantly bolder when exploring a novel substrate. Neophobia behavior was similar between both morphs. This work highlights how the distinct color morphs may respond to rapid habitat modification. These results have important implications for other North American salamanders as many species share the same color phenotypes and may be responding similarly.

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This item is protected by copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code) and may only be used for noncommercial, educational, and scholarly purposes.


Undergraduate research