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Microhabitat selection of axolotls, Ambystoma mexicanum, in artificial and natural aquatic systems

Ayala, Cristina, Ramos, Alejandra G., Merlo, Ángel, Zambrano, Luis
Hydrobiologia 2019 v.828 no.1 pp. 11-20
Ambystoma mexicanum, ecological value, ecosystems, habitat preferences, microhabitats, predation, radio telemetry, rocks, salamanders and newts, vegetation, zoos
Studies of habitat selection are crucial for the conservation of threatened amphibians. Wild salamanders are often distributed near rocks or vegetation, which provide shelter. However, nothing is known about habitat selection of the Mexican axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum), an endangered salamander of great cultural and ecological value. This study aims to test the relationship between vegetation presence and the distribution of captive-raised axolotls in two systems: a closed canal in their native ecosystem (n = 10) and an artificial canal within a zoological park (n = 6). We used radio-telemetry to analyse the hourly distribution and movement patterns of axolotls in each study site during 72-h observational periods. We found that movement patterns and microhabitat selection were related to vegetation coverage and diurnal and nocturnal periods. Sex and age had no effect in habitat selection. Axolotls in both study sites preferred vegetated microhabitats, but in Xochimilco this preference was only significant during daytime when they were less active. These habitat-specific patterns of spatial distribution may represent behavioural strategies for reducing predation. The first approach of behavioural insights from this study will inform the construction of refuges to reduce the alarming depletion of axolotls in the wild.