Monday, December 16, 2013

Salamander conservation in the Appalachian Mountains

The following is guest post by Debbie Jacobs, a senior at Clemson University enrolled in Dr. Barrett's Creative Inquiry course focused on amphibian conservation.

I am a junior at Clemson University majoring in Environmental and Natural Resources-Conservation Biology. I have always been fascinated by nature and have had this urge to help in any way possible to keep it flourishing. I am currently in a Creative Inquiry that is focused on observing and collecting data on the influence of land use disturbance on stream salamanders.

The Southeastern United States contains the greatest biodiversity of salamanders in the world. Most live in wetlands occupying streams, pools of water, and rivers at various temperatures all over the world. Salamanders use cutaneous gas exchange, which means they breathe through their skin; this makes them a good indicator species since they need high levels of dissolved oxygen content in the streams they occupy. If salamander populations are decreasing in an area where they were once abundant then it could indicate environmental pollution.  An increase in local human disturbance could be a cause in this increase of pollution. As urbanization and expansion of development increases, debris and litter enter straight into streams altering its composition and therefore directly effecting the population of salamanders living in that stream. Many salamander populations are being harmed and even destroyed from habitat loss and water pollution. Many wetlands are being destroyed for the new development of towns. Around 40% of salamanders are considered to be threatened in North America. They are also over-collected for the pet trade that is making salamanders even more vulnerable. 

Urbanization in Highlands NC is booming because people love the nature that surrounds that area and everyone wants to see those mountainous views. Such amenities lure people in from all over for either a vacation-get-away home or retirement home, and small businesses are taking advantage of this up-and-coming community and moving in to cater to the upper-class desires. My Creative Inquiry group spent the weekend in Highlands collecting field data from two sites, a stream within the urban area in the heart of downtown and the other stream secluded in the Highlands Botanical Garden (used as the control group). We sampled water from each site and collected water temperature, salinity, water pH, percent dissolved oxygen, and conductivity. After recording the data we sampled for salamanders, in the urban stream we found 4 salamanders total and 4 different species. In the controlled less disturbed area we found 25 salamanders total and 7 different species.

From my personal experience in collecting field data it is very clear that urbanization directly influences salamander population and diversity. Conservation of this species is very important. Salamanders play a very significant role in the ecosystem, such as breaking down organic matter for other small organisms and for the soil where trees take up the nourishment. One valuable benefit to humans is the medical research that is being conducted on this species to study the regeneration of tissue. It is not too late for the salamanders; wetlands can be restored and protected from development. Better communication with the public can be a great start in sustaining these creatures. 

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