Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Dr. Carl Anthony


Geographic variation in agonistic and territorial behavior is largely unknown in terrestrial plethodontid salamanders, even though territoriality is widespread throughout this group. Using the color polymorphic Eastern Red-backed Salamander (Plethodon cinereus), I compared the aggressive and submissive behaviors of two genetically distinct groups in northern Ohio using male and female salamanders from six populations. As in other populations of P. cinereus studied, I expected to find agonistic and territorial behavior present in the populations in this study. Additionally, I predicted that the genetic group that is monomorphic for the striped morph would exhibit a higher degree of agonistic and territorial behavior compared to the polymorphic genetic group consisting of both striped and unstriped morphs as an adaptive consequence of the altered social dynamics in monomorphic populations. In laboratory trials, residents from the polymorphic group were significantly more aggressive than residents from the monomorphic group, in contrast to my hypothesis. This finding was corroborated by a strong residency effect in the polymorphic group, an effect that was not as apparent in the monomorphic group. In particular, female residents from the polymorphic group displayed a significantly greater degree of aggression compared to female residents from the monomorphic group and were much more aggressive and less submissive as residents than as intruders. My results imply that the individuals in the polymorphic group, particularly females, are more aggressive and territorial than the individuals in the monomorphic group, suggesting they are more likely to secure a territory and defend it against intruders. Studying geographic variation in behavior may be a 2 valuable avenue of continued research to determine if divergent selection is occurring among genetically distinct groups within this species.

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