07 July 2021

Saltwater Salamanders

Written by: Gwyneth Daunton

I’m in Albuquerque! I’ve never been so far west before, so it’s been so cool to see a totally different ecosystem. Unlike the northern hardwoods of the northeast and the pine barrens of the southeast the scrub of New Mexico is quite different! There is still vegetation but it’s more sparce in places, and cactuses grow outside. The house I’m staying at has five horses that I’ll help to take care of and two little dogs. I’m also in the office for the first time (instead of working remotely) and everything is feeling very real. I’m sure in the next couple days the excitement might wear off, but it might take a while. 

Since I last wrote I learned how to create maps in ArcGIS pro that document the historic location of the Jemez Mountains salamander that were previously unrecorded. Working in ArcGIS pro has its frustrations though. Some of my data points did end up in the Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic, and Pacific Ocean which is especially unlikely since saltwater salamanders aren’t a thing. But once all the errors are accounted for, map making can be extremely rewarding. Seeing a direct visual representation of how my work has added locations to the species range always makes me smile.

Hopefully these maps will help show the functional habitat of the Jemez salamanders for the Species status assessment (SSA). I have started writing the biology portion of the SSA and now have more knowledge of this little salamander then I ever thought I would. Their reproductive habits are quite interesting. Most amphibians spend a lot of energy creating tons of eggs. Other salamander species are known to lay up to 150 eggs per clutch. This is common in most prey species since eggs are a great source of nutrition for predators and are easy food. Amphibians normally lay a bunch of eggs since a quite a few of them will be eaten or won’t survive, but a few young will indeed survive. The Jemez Mountains salamander has a different strategy, they only lay up to 8 eggs every other year. These precious 8 eggs are guarded by the female and she can even excrete secretions to ward off invertebrate predators or mold. It seems that most species within the Plethodon genus have this similar strategy of laying small clutches of eggs but it’s quite different from the Marbled and Tiger salamanders I’ve worked with for my master’s degree!

Next week I’ll get to know even more about this salamander as I get to go through the survey training and permitting process. After the training, I’ll be in the field where I will hopefully get to see a salamander face to face! The next few weeks will be a change from what I’m used to but I’m very excited to see what lies ahead.

Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service - DFP

Location: New Mexico Ecological Services Field Office

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