Kristen Cecala

Wellington, NZ

I am a senior at Davidson College, and I have been a member of the Herpetology Laboratory since the fall of my sophmore year. I spent my junior, fall semester in New Zealand at Victoria University in Wellington. Upon my return to Davidson, I continued to work as the student point person on our Stream Salamander Project and have conducted several research projects. I will continue my education at the University of Georgia and am interested in the ecology, dispersal, and interactions of several different amphibian species. I have also assisted with data collection of Diamondback Terrapins on Kiawah Island and GIS analysis of Burmese Pythons in Everglades National Park.

See my Genomics Website.

Kristen Cecala -C.V.

See my projects and their descriptions below.

Arthur's Pass, NZ

Desmognathus fuscus

Local Stream

The Effects of Urban Development on Stream Salamander Populations: A Landscape-Level Experiment

Steven J. Price, Kristen K. Cecala and Michael E. Dorcas

With this project, I am involved with dipnetting; bank surveys; funnel trapping; measuring stream characteristics; anesthetizing adult salamanders; individually marking captured salamanders with Visual Implant Elastomer (Northwest Marine Technology); ensuring equipment is working correctly; and assisting Steve Price in organizing and running the study. Interesting initial findings from this project are the presence of rare or previously undetected species in this region (Pseudotriton montanus, Eurycea guttolineata, and Gyrinophilus porphyriticus) and the presence of soil mites in Desmognathus fuscus.

See More Information and Preliminary Results

Pseudotriton montanus-Gyrinophilus porphyriticus-Eurycea guttolineata

The Effects of Urban Development on Streams: One Year Following Disturbance

During an independent study investigating geographical information systems, I used water quality data and stream characteristic data obtained from this study to examine whether initial land clearing changed streams after just one year. Click on the link above for more information about the results of my study.


Eurycea cirrigera

Pseudotriton ruber

Developed Site

D.fuscus under anesthesia

Bufo fowleri under anesthesia

Measuring and Comparing the Effectiveness of MS-222 and Orajel® as Amphibian Anesthesia

Kristen K. Cecala, Steven J. Price, and Michael E. Dorcas

Historically, tricaine methane sulfonate has been a popular amphibian anesthesia for procedures ranging from photography to surgery, but recently Orajel ®, a human analgesic, has been employed as an alternative. The effectiveness of each anesthesia type has been tested independently on single species, but no study has compared their effectiveness among amphibian species. We evaluated the time required until induction, time until initial recovery, time until complete recovery, and time required for the entire anesthesia process for Acris crepitans, Ambystoma talpoideum, Bufo fowleri, and Desmognathus fuscus using recommended doses of each anesthesia. We found that Orajel ® required significantly less time for induction in all species tested (all species p<0.001) and resulted in a longer anesthetization period than MS-222 in all species (p<0.001) except A. talpoideum in which MS-222 resulted in a longer anesthetization period (p=0.006). Anesthesia type had varying affects on complete recovery time and total time required for the anesthesia process. When choosing an anesthesia, we recommend preliminary trials with each anesthesia type to determine the anesthesia best-suited for a researcher’s intended use.

Presented at the 2006 Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists

Acris crepitans

Ambystoma talpoideum

Pseudotriton ruber Larva

Eating Your Neighbor: The Role of Predation in Structuring Stream Salamander Guilds

Kristen K. Cecala, Steven J. Price, and Michael E. Dorcas

Predation plays an important role in structuring community composition and relative abundance of salamanders within stream ecosystems. In diverse salamander guilds, predation among species may occur when size differences exist that can affect prey selection, consumption rates, and microhabitat use. In this study, we examined the interactions between larval red salamanders (Pseudotriton ruber), and larval northern dusky salamanders (Desmognathus fuscus) in both laboratory and field settings. Specifically, we 1) examined the behavior and microhabitat use of larval D. fuscus to response to the presence of P. ruber in the laboratory, 2) investigated actual predation on D. fuscus by examining the diet of P. ruber in the field, and 3) analyzed the effect of P. ruber presence on the abundance of larval D. fuscus in streams. In the laboratory, we found that larval D. fuscus chose cover objects further from a potential predator (i.e., P. ruber) than from a conspecific (p= <0.001) and would frequently leave the water in their larval state to avoid a predator. However, in the field we found that salamanders comprised only 2.5% of the diet of P. ruber. Yet, we captured significantly fewer D. fuscus in streams where P. ruber were present (p = 0.048). Our data suggest that the threat of predation, even if actual predation rates are low, can lead to changes in the behavior of prey species.  Ultimately, the threat of predation may alter prey species abundances and community compositions in stream systems.

Project Supported by:

A Grant in Aid of Research from the National Academy of Sciences, administered by Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society

The Yarbrough Research Grant administered by the Collegiate Academy, North Carolina Academy of Science

Desmognathus fuscus Larva

P.ruber eating D. fuscus

Diet Analysis of larval Pseudotriton ruber using a non-lethal technique

Kristen K. Cecala, Steven J. Price, and Michael E. Dorcas

Stream salamanders may play important roles as predators within streams, but we know little about actual predation by stream salamanders on other organisms. Because larval stream salamanders are more abundant within streams than adults, feed and forage throughout the year, and may spend multiple years in streams before transformation, larvae may play a larger role in trophic interactions within streams. We conducted a study using larval red salamanders (Pseudotriton ruber) to determine 1) the prey composition of larval salamanders, 2) if feeding rates are affected by stream water temperature, 3) if larval size affects the diversity of prey items, and 4) if non-lethal stomach flushing is an effective technique for examining the diet of larval salamanders. We found that larvae consumed a wide diversity of prey items including individuals of the families Chironomidae (36.52% of prey items) and Sphaeriidae (15.17%) as well as terrestrial prey (7.87%) and other salamanders (2.25%). We also found that feeding rates were negatively correlated with stream water temperature, and larger larvae consume a wider diversity of prey items than smaller individuals. Our results also suggest that non-lethal stomach flushing did not affect re-capture rates. These findings suggest that larval red salamanders are generalist predators that can consume a greater diversity of prey items as they grow.

Project currently in press, Journal of Herpetology

Stomach flushing P.ruber

Stream with bottle traps

Investigating population structure and movement of Pseudotriton ruber and P. montanus

Kristen K. Cecala, Steven J. Price, and Michael E. Dorcas

Little is known about stream salamander movements within a stream, nor do we understand the dispersal mechanisms of stream salamanders. I am using a robust design sampling regime to examine the theory of upstream bias and other movements of salamanders within a stream. However, the benefits of using this design will allow me to analyze population characteristics such as population size, survivorship, and the detectability of various larval age classes. Additionally, I hope to examine any microhabitat preferences or partitioning of different species and different age classes. I am using 2 inverted soda bottle traps per one meter section for the entire inhabitable length of this stream to capture individuals and assess movement. To date we have captured over 1,700 animals of 6 different salamander species within a single 150 m stream. I expect several manuscripts to arise from this project including one examining the movements of different larval cohorts, demography of a larval salamander guild, seasonal growth and activity of larval red salamanders, and stream usage by juvenile snakes.

Processing salamanders in the field

Two mites engorged on D. fuscus

Mite Parasitism on Salamanders of the Western Piedmont of North Carolina

Caitlin Westfall, Kristen K. Cecala, Steven J. Price, and Michael E. Dorcas

See more information about this project.

A mite affecting movement and blood flow in the foot

Rates of Injury in Diamondback Terrapins

Kristen Cecala, Michael Dorcas, and Whit Gibbons

Terrapins are frequently found with significant damage to limbs and shell. We are investigating rates of injury to limbs and the shell, differences in injury frequency between sexes and body locations, what age turtles are most likely to be injured, whether injury affects detection, and whether injury affects survivorship over a 22 year period. Thusfar, injuries appear to be prevalent throughout diamondback terrapins with nearly 10% of one population having some type of limb loss or shell injury. Furthermore, analyses have shown that terrapins with injuries also appear to have lower survivorship. Because some injuries have increased temporally, we must further consider how increased human activity, particularly boating activity, on barrier islands can affect terrapin populations.

Queen Charlotte Sound, NZ

Kaiteriteri, NZ

Onetahuti Beach, NZ

Questions? E-mail me:

Davidson College Herpetology Lab Homepage

Some Herp Photographs by M.E. Dorcas and J.D. Willson

Lake Pukaki, Mt. Cook, NZ

View from Mt. Sealy, NZ

Arthur's Pass, NZ

Mt. Cook, NZ