A critical variable in both ecological and conservation field studies is determining how many individuals of a species are present within a defined sampling area. Labor intensive techniques such as capture-mark-recapture and removal sampling may provide estimates of abundance, but there are many logistical constraints to their widespread application. Many studies on terrestrial and aquatic salamanders use counts as an index of abundance, assuming that detection remains constant while sampling. If this constancy is violated, determination of detection probabilities is critical to the accurate estimation of abundance. Recently, a model was developed that provides a statistical approach that allows abundance and detection to be estimated simultaneously from spatially and temporally replicated counts. We adapted this model to estimate these parameters for salamanders sampled over a six year period in area-constrained plots in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Estimates of salamander abundance varied among years, but annual changes in abundance did not vary uniformly among species. Except for one species, abundance estimates were not correlated with site covariates (elevation, soil and water pH, conductivity, air and water temperature). The uncertainty in the estimates was so large as to make correlations ineffectual in predicting which covariates might influence abundance. Detection probabilities also varied among species and sometimes among years for the six species examined. We found such a high degree of variation in our counts and in estimates of detection among species, sites, and years as to cast doubt upon the appropriateness of using count data to monitor population trends using a small number of area-constrained survey plots. Still, the model provided reasonable estimates of abundance that could make it useful in estimating population size from count surveys.
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Vol. 60 • No. 4