17 June 2021

Saving New Mexico’s salamanders from the banks of the Chattahoochee

Written by: Gwyneth Daunton

With the end of week four of my internship just within grasp, I’m starting to get an idea of what working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service would be like. The biologists at the New Mexico Ecological Service office in Albuquerque have been extremely welcoming as I’ve started my internship as a DFP. For the time being, I’m working out of my apartment and the occasional coffee shop located along the banks of the Chattahoochee in Columbus, Georgia. Remote working has its technical challenges, such as figuring out how to blur your background in teams, but also the benefit of having a river front office that serves the best London fog.

The focus of my internship is on digitizing historical documents on the threatened Jemez Mountain salamander to help with the species status assessment. This small brown salamander is endemic to the Jemez Mountains and only surfaces two months out of the year to breed, then it disappears back into its subterranean home. Due to its secretive lifestyle researching their biology takes a lot of effort, but this hasn’t stopped researchers from trying!

Reading historic documents that come to me in the form of reports, journal articles, field notes, and emails has been really rewarding. Knowing that researchers from the 1950 had the same passion that I do for these slimy little critters kind of crazy to think about. Some of the articles stick out more than others though. Most of them are reports detailing the biology and ecology of the Jemez mountain salamander while others focus on tasting salamander secretions to see if they are toxic or not. I’m quite glad that I have never needed to taste a salamander, even if it is for science. From these documents I glean data on the salamander’s diet, historic populations, early mark and recapture methods, and maps. All this information is then cataloged to be used in the species status assessment to get a better understanding on how to manage the population that we have now to get it back to its historic range.

I’m very excited to continue to read these documents and learn more about this little salamander. I’ve already started creating maps that detail locations that they were found as far back as the 1970’s. Soon, I’ll have a slight change of pace as I’ll be flying out to Albuquerque so I can see this salamander face-to-face, which will be a real treat.

Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service - DFP

Location: New Mexico Ecological Services Field Office

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