Great Basin Naturalist


Of the 13 lakes in the central Wasatch Mountains with tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) populations, salamander mass mortalities occurred in four seepage lakes that experienced extensive lowering of the water levels during the summer. The largest of these lakes, the oligotrophic Desolation Lake, was studied to determine the cause of the mortality phenomenon. The recurrent annual mass mortality involved both breeding adults and young-of-the-year. Rate kinetics suggest that mortality rate doubles with a fivefold increase in the number of aquatic young salamanders. The proximate cause of the mass mortality was identified as a bacterium, Acinetobacter sp. Desolation Lake and a seepage lake that did not experience the mass mortality were studied for the presence of Acinetobacter. Both lakes experienced two bacteria cycles: the first in early summer involved gram-positive bacteria, and the second in late summer involved gram-negative bacteria (mostly coliform bacteria and Acinetobacter). The mass mortalities were associated with the late-summer gram-negative bacterial bloom, and Acinetobacter was found in large numbers in Desolation Lake. Algae, as well as other photosynthetic plants, were not present in large numbers. Since these lakes are growth-limited with respect to nitrogen and not with respect to phosphate, and since Desolation Lake had extensive lowering of the lake level during the summer, the biological cycle of the lake is proposed to be due to atmospheric and sheep-produced nitrogen products within the watershed. In this unstable lake system, bacteria are primarily responsible for incorporation of nitrogen in the food chain. The timing of the cyclical events depends on total winter precipitation.