Saturday, October 12, 2013

URSP Student Melissa Fuerst Monitors Salamander Migration

 Salamander Migration Monitoring

This past summer I was looking to explore my major in Conservation Studies with an experiential learning opportunity. During a trip to the Environmental Studies on the Piedmont in Warrenton, VA, I met Dr. Wood who was looking for a student to work on a project at the field station. Eager to gain a hands-on learning experience, I took the opportunity and started working on monitoring larval salamanders in a 2-3 year-old man-made vernal pool at the station. Historically, mole salamanders (pond-dwelling species from the family Ambystomatidae) thrived in numerous vernal pools all over North America. Due to negative human impacts such as urbanization, deforestation, pollution, and agriculture, a large amount of their habitat has been destroyed. With this in mind, the southeastern United States has the greatest biodiversity of salamanders in the world. If we destroy their populations as fast as we are expanding our urban areas, we will no longer have the beautiful biodiversity these amphibians contribute to our ecosystems. Therefore, researching these amazing creatures have and will continue to compliment my career in conservation.

In order to monitor the growth of the amphibian population at the ES, I collect a population sample every two weeks. At night around 9:00 pm, I set 25 plastic bottle traps around the edge of the vernal pool and check the traps 12 hours later. After recording the temperature and humidity and noting any significant weather conditions, I measure the length in mm and count the toes of each salamander. During my time at the pool, I also pay close attention to what wildlife I observe and hear. After gathering my data, I enter it into an excel sheet and interpret it in a field journal along with my observations of the day. In between each collection period, I am researching my questions relating to salamanders or surrounding wildlife.

Currently, the salamanders should be morphing into their land forms and migrating out of the pool, however they seem to be developing and migrating late because of high water levels. I have recently been looking under logs and rocks for salamanders in case they have migrated, but this week I read that juveniles of the pond salamanders I am looking at will mostly burrow underground instead of being found on the forest floor. I speculate that because of this, if I want to try to find the newly migrated salamanders (if they are there), I will have to wait until a period of heavy rain for them to come to the surface.