Multistate model to estimate sex-specific dispersal rates and distances for a wetland-breeding amphibian population

Courtney L. Davis, David J. Muñoz, Staci M. Amburgey, Carli R. Dinsmore, Eric W. Teitsworth, David A.W. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How animals move across space and time in heterogeneous landscapes has important implications for the conservation of imperiled and dispersal-limited taxa, such as amphibians. Wetland-breeding amphibians are thought to exhibit strong site fidelity, but there is growing evidence that many species are more vagile than previously assumed. Few studies have quantified breeding dispersal probabilities or distances while also accounting for observational uncertainty, which means that resultant estimates could be biased or confounded with sampling intensity and other demographic rates (e.g., site- and time-specific detection and survival probabilities). Here, we analyze data from a 6-year capture–mark–recapture study on adult spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) conducted at 12 wetlands in central Pennsylvania to estimate population dynamics and population structure at multiple scales. We used a multistate, hidden Markov estimator to quantify sex-specific site fidelity and breeding dispersal as a function of Euclidean distance between wetlands while accounting for imperfect detection. We estimated short-timescale movements (i.e., those that occur within a single breeding season) and longer timescale movements (i.e., those that occur among breeding seasons) to determine if dispersal rates and distances differed. We found that interannual site fidelity of males varied among wetlands and was positively associated with population density. Females exhibited higher interannual site fidelity and dispersed further than males between breeding seasons. Within breeding seasons, we found that up to 6% of males dispersed to a new wetland each day. Our study is the first to directly compare amphibian breeding dispersal probabilities and distances at multiple scales and provides a robust framework for improving inference on the spatial and temporal patterns of amphibian movement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere4345
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology

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