The Salamander Study: A Citizen Science Project

In the autumn of 2018, TCC was accepted as a member of the Salamander Population and Adaptation Research Collaboration Network (SPARCnet), a consortium of research and educational institutions studying the effects of climate change and land use on salamander populations. SPARCnet has two primary objectives:
Science Objectives-
Understand impacts of land use and climate change on salamander population dynamics.
Develop models to describe local and regional drivers of population dynamics.
Understand the adaptive capacity of salamanders to ensuing environmental changes.
Education Objectives-
Develop an understanding and appreciation for hidden biological diversity.
Develop scientific process literacy.
Promote quantitative skills through biological sciences.

Laying out and setting the cover boards

Laying out and setting the cover boards

How TCC is Participating
Following SPARCnet protocol, we have set up two monitoring plots of 50 cover boards each, located in the Earle Remick Natural Area. Six salamander censuses are performed each year; three in the spring (April-May) and three in the fall (September-October). Red-backed salamanders are the main species of interest but other species that may be encountered (spotted, red eft, two-lined) are also recorded. School groups, home-schoolers and the general public are invited to participate.

Why Red-backed Salamanders?
Amphibians are particularly sensitive to changes in the environment. Temperature, moisture and chemistry all come into play and they can effect the appearance, the health, and even the survival of many amphibian species. Amphibians will react to environmental changes much more quickly than other animals. Ecologists call them “indicator species”, sort of a canary in a coal mine so to speak. The red-backed salamander is the most ubiquitous amphibian species in eastern North America. In fact it is the most ubiquitous species of all vertebrates (fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds). Red-backed salamanders can easily be collected using cover boards because they frequently visit the ground surface and they never retreat into the ponds and streams.

Join the Citizen Science Salamander Team!
If you like cute, tiny critters, this is a great way to become familiar with your most common yet seldom seen wildlife neighbors. If you can count up to ten and recognize different colors, you are qualified. Fifteen minutes of training and you'll be a citizen science field biologist. We also welcome anyone interested in other natural sciences. There is work we could be doing in entomology, botany, meteorology, and soil science that is directly related to the salamander study. We just need to find the right people. You can email to learn more.