Amphibian Coverboard Monitoring

Spotted salamander
      Scattered throughout White Memorial in forested areas near wetlands are nineteen grids of coverboards, which are simply boards of untreated wood that are left on the ground. They have been in place for many years as part of a long-term amphibian monitoring program.  Amphibians like salamanders often shelter under rotting logs; the greater surface area provided by the coverboards allows us to find amphibians more easily than checking naturally occurring logs. 
     Amphibians are sensitive to a variety of environmental factors.  Unlike mammals, who gain minerals like electrolytes by eating, amphibians absorb those minerals through their skin.  Unfortunately, harmful things can also pass through their skin; they are extremely vulnerable to both local pollutants like farm runoff and  global ones like acid rain.  Climate change and diseases also threaten many species.  The parasitic fungus chytrid has been causing extinction in amphibian species all over the world, and a new flesh-eating fungus discovered on salamanders in England may be spreading internationally.  
     By monitoring our amphibian coverboards regularly, we will notice changes in amphibian populations and can use this information to try to determine a cause.  While we at White Memorial cannot end global climate change or acid rain by ourselves, we can attempt to stop the spread of diseases or address the sources of local pollutants.  
    Of particular interest to us are Jefferson salamanders, blue-spotted salamanders, and the hybrids that can result from those two species interbreeding.  Blue-spotted salamanders are endangered in the state of Connecticut, and are limited to several small, isolated populations.  The hybrids are state listed as species of special concern.  While blue-spotted salamanders and hybrids look very similar, hybrids tend to be slightly lighter in color, dark gray rather than black, and both have striking, sky blue spots.

Jefferson/Blue-spotted salamander hybrid
     We check coverboards once a month, and it takes a team of 3-4 people a day and a half to check all nineteen grids.  The most common salamanders we encounter are red-backed salamanders, which also have a "led" phase, meaning that while most individuals have reddish-brown backs, others appear gray-blue.  We also record any other amphibians that happen to be in the grids, like red-spotted newts, whose bright orange eft life-stage we usually see walking through leaf litter, as well as wood frogs, spring peepers, and American toads.  While checking coverboards, we try to disturb the amphibians as little as possible.  We do not handle the amphibians, and we try to cover salamanders quickly and gently after identifying them.
Led phase red-backed salamander

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