M. Kevin Hamed

Ph.D. Candidate





Amphibians are suffering population declines and extinctions worldwide.  Disease, climate change, habitat loss, and exotic species are potential causes of these declines.  My research will focus on two categories of anthropogenic factors that could impact amphibian populations: (1) effects of long-term climate change and heavy metal deposition, and (2) seasonal maintenance of power line right-of-ways. 





High elevation mountain peaks in the southern Appalachian Mountains are known for many species of unique flora and fauna.  In particular, southern Appalachia is an epicenter of salamander evolution and a hotspot for plethodontid biodiversity.  Long-term changes in climate and atmospheric deposition of heavy metals are potential threats to high-elevation salamanders.  In addition, occurrence of these stressors could impact the likelihood of pathogen emergence.  Information is needed on the effects of stressors on plethodontid salamanders and their impacts on prevalence of endemic pathogens.   

          My study is being conducted on the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area (NRA) in southwest Virginia.  Whitetop Mountain and Mt. Rogers are the two highest peaks in Virginia, each climbing over 5,500 feet.  Three salamander species listed as “special concern” (Weller’s, Pygmy, and Yohanlossee) reach the northern extent of their range on these mountains.  From 1958 – 1991, Dr. James Organ (retired professor and chair, City College, New York) studied the distribution of salamanders in this region (Ecological Monographs 31:189-220).  His data set included salamander distributions along elevational transects at 100-ft intervals.  In addition, thousands of museum specimens were collected. 


The objectives of this study are:


1.     Quantify changes in the elevational distributions of salamanders along the same transects surveyed by Dr. Organ.

2.     Quantify current mercury and lead concentrations in salamanders and compare levels with those collected in the 1950s from the same locations.

3.     Quantify the current and historic prevalence of the emerging pathogen Ranavirus in Mount Rogers NRA salamander populations.


In addition, regional high school students will assist in data collection to provide a unique case-based learning project.


Collaborators:     U.S. Forest Service (Mount Rogers National Recreation Area) and Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries


Funding:             National Science Foundation and Virginia Tech Prep Consortium





The distribution of four-toed salamanders throughout the eastern United States is patchy with many disjunct populations.  The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency considers the four-toed salamander as a species “in need of management.”  This species breeds in forested wetlands, which have decreased in availability due to conversion to agriculture and river channelization.  Power line right-of-ways (ROW) frequently traverse four-toed salamander habitat.  Natural depressions in power line ROWs may function as ecological sinks.  Different ROW maintenance techniques (e.g., annual versus less frequent mowing) also may impact salamanders differently.  Information is needed on the nesting success and recruitment of four-toad salamanders in power line ROWs, and the effects of different maintenance techniques.   

          This study will be conducted on land owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority associated with the South Holston Dam.  Power lines leaving the dam cross four-toed salamander nesting habitat.  The power line ROW has been mowed historically every 5 years to maintain vegetation height yet annual mowing is common in other areas.  My research will determine the effects of mowing frequency on the quality of four-toed salamander nesting habitat, and will establish best management practices for ROW management for salamanders.


The objectives of this study are:


1.     Quantify fecundity and nest success between nests laid in the power line ROW and adjacent forested habitat.

2.     Quantify differences in larval success in annual, 5-year, and forested treatment plots using experimental mesocosms.

3.     Determine if differences exist in the prevalence of Ranavirus in four-toed salamanders nesting in forested versus power line habitats.


Collaborators:     Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency and Tennessee Valley Authority


Funding:             Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency







I was born and raised in Bristol, Tennessee, known for NASCAR Short-track Racing.  I graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a B.S. in Biology in 1995.  From 1995 to 2003, I was the Nature Center Manager for Steele Creek Park.  During my employment, I received a M.S. in Biology from East Tennessee State University.  My research focused on the life history of the Tennessee Dace (Phoxinus tennesseensis), and was conducted under Dr. Fred Alsop and Dr. Tom Laughlin. For the past 5 years, I have instructed General Biology I & II and Coastal Ecology at Virginia Highlands Community College (VHCC).  In an interest to further my education and improve research and teaching skills, I started my Ph.D. in summer 2008.  My professional interests include Southern Appalachian amphibians, shrews, and fish.  My wife (Misty) and I reside in Bristol, and I continue to instruct at VHCC while pursuing my doctorate.



Contact Information



Phone: (276) 739-2431  



UT Wetlands Program


UT Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries