Mountaintop removal mining reduces stream salamander occupancy and richness in southeastern Kentucky (USA)

Brenee' L. Muncy, Steven J. Price, Simon J. Bonner, Christopher D. Barton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Mountaintop removal mining with valley fills (MTR/VF) is a ubiquitous form of land conversion in central Appalachia, USA and threatens the integrity of stream ecosystems. We investigated the effects of MTR/VF on stream salamander occupancy and overall community composition in southeastern Kentucky by conducting area constrained active searches for salamanders within first-order streams located in mature forest (i.e., control streams) and those impacted by MTR/VF. We found high mean species occupancy across 5 species at control streams, ranging from 0.73 (95% CI 0.41 to 0.96) to 0.90 (95% CI 0.77 to 0.98). Occupancy was lower at MTR/VF streams, with mean estimated occupancy probability ranging from 0.23 (95% CI 0.04 to 0.51) to 0.62 (95% CI 0.36 to 0.86). Additionally, the mean species richness for MTR/VF streams was 2.27 (±1.27 SD) whereas richness was 4.67 (±0.65 SD) for control streams. Numerous mechanisms may be responsible for decreased occupancy and species richness at MTR/VF streams, although water chemistry may be particularly important. Indeed, mean specific conductance was 30 times greater, sulfate (SO4) levels were 70 times greater, and concentrations of dissolved ions (Ca, Mg, K, Na) were greater in MTR/VF streams than in control streams. Our results indicate that MTR/VF operations lead to significant decreases in salamander occupancy and species richness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-121
Number of pages7
JournalBiological Conservation
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank D. Collett, A. Drayer, C. Elmore, P. Muncy and C. Osborne for helping with data collection. M. Contreras and D. Parrott provided GIS material for this study. We thank M. Hamilton for analyzing water samples. J. Guzy and B. Hallstead aided with statistical analysis. Initial drafts of this manuscript were improved by S. Hamilton, D. Wagner and P.B. Wood. Funding was provided by the Kentucky Society of Natural History, Department of Forestry, University of Kentucky, and the McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry Research Program (Accession Number 1001968).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Amphibians
  • Appalachia
  • Coal mining
  • Community
  • Valley fill

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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