Newly Discovered Chytrid Fungus

fire salamanderA new species of chytrid fungus has a different ecological niche than the one that has been wiping out amphibians all over the globe, says John Platt it Scientific American’s Extinction Countdown blog.

The familiar strain of chytrid fungus thrived in warmer temperatures. The newly discovered species thrives at lower temperatures, the blog post says. The fungus was identified in salamanders in the Netherlands. Midwife toads exposed to the fungus in the lab did not die.

Is this good news or bad news? It could be good news if the fungus is only lethal to a small number of species and is only viable in a certain temperature range. Limits are good when it comes to chytrid fungi.

However, if this species of chytrid fungus is totally different from the other species that has already done a good job of wiping out amphibians worldwide in everything but how lethal it is — in could just hit amphibian species and environments that the other species hasn’t gotten to yet, which would be very bad news indeed.

Read the Extinction Countdown blog post here.
Read the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper here. (Fee or subscription required for full article.)

Photo: Fire salamander in France, by Didier Descouens. Used under Creative Commons agreement.

It’s Not The Heat, It’s the Water Regime

black-bellied_salamander_cressler_high_resToday is the second day in a US Geological Survey amphibian two-fer. If you like your wildlife moist and federally researched, you’ve come to the right place.

Scientists have long suspected that climate change is an important factor in amphibian declines, a US Geological Survey press release notes, and resource managers are asking whether conservation measures might help species persist or adapt in a changing climate. Three recent U.S. Geological Survey studies offer some insight into the issue.

The studies were conducted by researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative, or ARMI.

One study found that it’s not the heat, it’s the precipitation that will drive amphibian’s response to climate change. That is, the alternating droughts and deluges that are predicted to worsen as climate change increases, will hurt amphibian populations as they struggle to adapt to ever-changing water levels. Read that paper in the journal Biology.

Another study confirmed that drought hurts populations of mole salamanders, at least over the short term. The study was important because the mole salamanders are similar to the federally threatened flatwoods salamander, and the finding implies that climate change will be yet another stressor to the threatened species. Read the paper in the journal Wetlands.

The third study showed U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wetlands Reserve Program is effective in increasing the species richness of frogs and toads on farms in the program. Creating permanent, or at least long-lasting, water sources seems to be the primary reason. Learn more in the paper in the journal Restoration Ecology.

You can read a more detailed summary of these three studies in the USGS press release, here.

Photo: Black-bellied salamander (Desmognathus quadramaculatus) was found in the Citico Creek Wilderness, Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee. Not sure what it has to do with these studies, but it’s cute. Photo by Alan Cressler, courtesy USGS.

USGS Calculates How Fast Amphibians Are Falling

Green_Tree_Frog_in_pitcher_plant_Cressler_photoThere have been studies that have calculated the likelihood of extinction for various amphibian species, but the first study to calculate how fast amphibian populations are declining was recently published in PLoS ONE.

The study found that amphibians disappeared from their habitats at a rate of 3.7% per year from 2002 to 2011. Species that are red-listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) disappeared at an average of 11.6% annually.

“Even though these declines seem small on the surface, they are not,” said US Geological Survey ecologist Michael Adams, the lead author of the study in a press release. “Small numbers build up to dramatic declines with time. We knew there was a big problem with amphibians, but these numbers are both surprising and of significant concern.”

Read the PLoS ONE article, here. (Open access.)
Read the USGS press release on the paper, here.
Read a Washington Post article that is mostly about the rate of amphibian decline, here.

Photo: A green tree frog (Hyla cinerea) sits on the lip of a pitcher plant in a bog in Alabama. Photo by Alan Cressler, used courtesy USGS.

NYS Raising Hellbenders

hellbenderHellbenders are the America’s largest aquatic salamander and can reach over two feet in length. In New York, they are only found in the Allegheny and Susquehanna River river drainages. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, eastern hellbenders were listed as a species of special concern in the state in 1984.

One survey of the hellbenders in the Susquehanna River drainage found that all of the salamanders were over 25 years old, showing that no young had survived in that population for quite a while, according to NYS DEC.

Hellbenders raised at the Buffalo Zoo have been released into the wild starting in 2009. A recent issue of the NYS DEC Field Notes says that 146 juvenile hellbenders have been released into the Allegheny River, and recently, one of them has been recaptured, after having gained 40 grams.

The rest of the 400 hellbenders raised in the Buffalo Zoo program are scheduled to be released in 2013, the newsletter says.

Salamanders Shrink in Texas Drought

220px-Eurycea_tonkawae_IMG_3631Nathan F. Bendik of the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department and Andrew Gluesenkamp, the state herpetologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, were not surprised when the tails of an endangered salamander, Eurycea tonkawae, were thinner when measured during a drought.

Their mark-and-recapture survey was able to compare measurements of individuals, not just the population as a whole of this spring-dwelling salamander. They knew that the salamanders store fat in their tails, and that when times are tough, the tails are thinner.

It was a surprise, however, that the total length of the salamanders shrank during the drought. Once the water flow in the spring resumed, however, the salamanders grew again.

Their observations are now an article in the Journal of Zoology. Read the abstract here. The full article requires a subscription or fee.

Photo by Piers Hendrie of a Jollyville Plateau Salamander (Eurycea tonkawae), Travis County, Texas. Used through Wikimedia Commons.