ABS 2022
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Effects of Conspecific Density on Habitat Assessment in Red-backed Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus)
Eli Haines-Eitzen, Keith A. Tarvin. Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, United States

We examined habitat assessment and exploratory behavior in male and female red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) when given choices between territories occupied by varying densities of conspecifics. We tested two alternative hypotheses: (1) invading salamanders prefer high conspecific density because it signals high quality habitat, versus (2) salamanders avoid high conspecific density because of increased risk of competition. Focal salamanders associated less with territories marked by multiple conspecifics than those marked by one individual. Focal salamanders exhibited more exploratory behavior in territories marked by multiple conspecifics and in unoccupied territories than in territories marked by one conspecific. Invading females spent more time near shelters, regardless of whether they were “occupied,” than males. These results suggest that there is a greater perceived cost to invading P. cinereus of inhabiting territories occupied by multiple conspecifics than those occupied by individual conspecifics. This study also indicates that the benefit of invading occupied territory may be greater to females than males relative to the potential cost of increased competition.