Tuesday, January 13, 2015

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

I am currently a senior in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology at Clemson University.  I have spent the last three months participating in a Creative Inquiry (CI) project that focuses on the effects of exurbanization on salamanders in the Clemson area.  This Creative Inquiry really interested me because my passion is endangered species and human impacts on wildlife.  The research we are doing shows how exurbanization could be affecting salamander populations in first order streams, which goes right along with my interest in human impacts on wildlife. 
Our Creative Inquiry’s outings and research was led by graduate student Nathan Weaver.  We started out having weekly meetings that focused on gathering background information and learning about salamander ecology.  We would read and discuss different scientific journals that we found on stream ecology, amphibian ecology, and impacts of urbanization. Reading journals helped us get prepared for field work and helped us to understand the proper way to set up a research project.   After we were well versified we picked out streams within the Clemson area to start sampling in.  We had one control and four urban sites. 

Most people do not know what exurbanization is. Well, exurbaniztion is when people from an urban area move to a rural area but still continue with an urban lifestyle.  When people move to rural areas they usually don’t realize the impacts they can have on the environment.  Ecosystems are very sensitive and one change can completely alter the makeup of an ecosystem.  Constructing houses in rural areas can result in increases in sedimentation, erosion, salinity, and fertilizer pollution in the local streams.  Debris and litter also start entering an ecosystem when is becomes urbanized.  All of these things in large quantities can be detrimental to amphibian populations and their development. 
Salamanders are amazing in the fact that they are indicators for a healthy ecosystem.  Salamanders have permeable skin that allows oxygen and other biological components to enter and exit their bodies constantly.  This is a perfect survival tool in wet environments but it also makes them extra susceptible to being impacted by pollutants and climate change.  For this reason, healthier streams usually have a higher diversity and number of salamanders.  Salamanders are very important to a balanced ecosystem, because they keep the insect and arthropod populations balanced.  Salamanders are a dominant keystone predator and it is very important that we do everything in our power to protect them. 

For my research I looked into water quality and its effects on the number of salamanders within a stream.  From going out in the field, and the research I have conducted, it is clear that salamander populations are impacted by the water quality in their ecosystem.  In all the exurban streams there were huge amounts of litter all throughout the water and along the banks.  From our data it is not clear how much salinity, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, pH and water temperature affect populations, but hopefully once more data is collected next semester there will be a better indicate on of how populations are being impacted.  Even though there are not conclusive results from our data yet, other literature has made it clear that good water quality is essential for a healthy salamander population.  Next semester I would really like to look into the amounts of litter in each stream and see if that has any effects on salamander populations and diversity. 
This creative inquiry has given me very valuable field experience and helped me learn how to conduct research.  In the world of Wildlife and Fisheries Biology it is very important to not only have good academics but to also have a lot of field experience.  From personal experience I can tell you that I have learned more through field work than I have in my classes.  You can learn about techniques all day, but you will never fully understand them until you get the hands on experience. Creative inquiries in general teach you a hard work ethic and give you a chance to do something you are passionate about. 

I am excited to continue my work with salamanders and learn even more from this CI.  I am very thankful to have found a CI that helped me discover my passion for salamanders and their role they play in the natural world.  The wildlife in this world play a vital part in our survival.  It is essential that we love and respect the earth and all the plants and animals that abide there.  Hopefully this Creative Inquiry and our research can help us to communicate and educate the public, so that they can help in the restoration and protection of salamanders. 

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