Salamander Surveillance

Trekking past corn fields into the temperate deciduous forest beyond, our goal is to identify and measure salamanders found at our site. Some mornings all we find are red-backed salamanders, other times we see another species, such as the four-toed salamander.

Four-toed salamander identified at RARE research center. (Skuse, Tim)

Four-toed salamander identified at RARE research center. (Skuse, Tim)

Redback salamander positioned on a plastic container rinsed with pond water. This salamander breaths through its skin, thus we only touch them while wearing gloves. (Strobel, Adelle)

Redback salamander positioned on a plastic container rinsed with pond water. This salamander breaths through its skin, thus we only touch them while wearing gloves. (Strobel, Adelle)

These two species are not at risk in Ontario, to be more specific, red-backed salamanders are some of the most common amphibians that could be found in Ontario. We collect our data, which will contribute to a longitudinal study, monitored through rare, a charitable research reserve. Considering that our main findings have been common salamanders and there is no apparent immediate benefit – why do I volunteer?

  1. Volunteering is good for me! Research has shown that giving your time away can improve your health, your ability to manage the rest of your time in a day, and your life expectancy.
  2. Prevention is often more productive than reacting to calamities! While neither species currently appears to be in danger, it would be much better to learn how to protect this ecosystem before harm occurs.
  3. The lack of certain salamander species may continue to indicate ecosystem fragility. There are eleven species of salamanders found in Ontario. Of these, two are expedited and four are endangered. In discussion with Tim, it appears that through salamander monitoring on the rare research sites in 2015, only four salamander species have been seen. This may indicate that the situation for those species currently in danger has yet to improve.
  4. Long term studies with certain species help to gauge change that might be too small to see in the short term. Monitoring salamanders is a small goal in the bigger picture of understanding forest ecosystem health. By understanding the health of salamanders at a small scale, insight may be given to the health trends in populations. This can lead to future predictions of salamander population health as well as improved policies protecting natural systems.
(Strobel, Adelle)

(Strobel, Adelle)

Volunteering continues to motivate me towards having an attitude of respect towards the environment and a corresponding lifestyle.

Background on some Ontario salamanders

Salamanders hibernate during winter months under the soil layer in forests. In order to survive, they rely on fat stored in their tails, metabolized from their insect diet. However, when a predator attacks the salamander’s tail, it can lose its prey because the tail can be detached and grow again. If the salamander loses its tail prior to hibernation, it is unlikely to survive the long winter months without this necessary fat store.

The Eastern Red-backed Salamander is most abundant in southern Ontario with two colour life stages – principally red-orange and occasionally lead-black. It prefers to live in cool and moist soils. Thus, one threat to the species is changes to its habitat. Even small changes, such as slightly less canopy cover can affect the climate on the forest floor. Thus, I believe this species is ideal to study in monitoring woodland health, as population decreases could quickly identify impactful changes in the habitat.

In Ontario, the Four-Toed Salamander is the only terrestrial species with four instead of five toes on its hind feet. In the field, an easier method for identifying the four toed salamander is to look beneath its black back to find a lighter belly with dark spots, rather than counting its toes. The spotted belly distinguishes the Four-Toed Salamander from the Red-Backed Salamander which can occasionally have a dark back colour when its undergoing the lead-back life stage.

Background on rare, the Charitable Research Reserve

rare is a diverse area of natural systems. The geology, ecology, and biology interweaves the Grand and Speed Rivers, details escarpment similar to the Hamilton-Niagara region, builds up vegetation from deciduous, transitional, and coniferous forests. This immense variety provided by nature has been preserved from human disturbances by caring about the community and future generations. Their vision describes this well: “a diverse network of connected natural areas, protected intact and in perpetuate”. Practically this is achieved by providing leadership in four main areas – conservation, research, restoration, and education.

Adelle has received her B.Sc. in Integrated Science with Biochemistry. Through her studies, she gained a reputation as an ideas person, an encourager to her peers, and a hard worker. She aims to continue exploring, innovating, and inventing at every opportunity that arises.

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