Potential reduction in terrestrial salamander ranges associated with Marcellus shale development
Natural gas production from the Marcellus shale is rapidly increasing in the northeastern United States. Most of the endemic terrestrial salamander species in the region are classified as ‘globally secure’ by the IUCN, primarily because much of their ranges include state- and federally protected lands, which have been presumed to be free from habitat loss. However, the proposed and ongoing development of the Marcellus gas resources may result in significant range restrictions for these and other terrestrial forest salamanders. To begin to address the gaps in our knowledge of the direct impacts of shale gas development, we developed occurrence models for five species of terrestrial plethodontid salamanders found largely within the Marcellus shale play. We predicted future Marcellus shale development under several scenarios. Under scenarios of 10000, 20000, and 50000 new gas wells, we predict 4%, 8%, and 20% forest loss, respectively, within the play. Predictions of habitat loss vary among species, but in general, Plethodon electromorphus and P. wehrlei are predicted to lose the greatest proportion of forested habitat within their ranges if future Marcellus predictions are based on characteristics of the shale play. If predictions are based on current well locations, P. richmondi is predicted to lose the greatest proportion of habitat. Models showed high uncertainty in species’ ranges and emphasize the need for distribution data collected by widespread and repeated, randomized surveys.