Eastern Red-backed Salamander Monitoring Project

Photo of an eastern red-backed salamander, taken by Brooks Mathewson.

To determine whether Eastern Red-backed Salamanders are present at the Fresh Pond Reservation and to assess the health of the ecologically important populations.

Members of the Friends of Fresh Pond who are interested in joining the Eastern Red-backed Salamander Monitoring Project are encouraged to apply. If interested, please email Brooks at bgmathewson@post.harvard.edu.

Additionally, there will be a talk presented by Brooks Mathewson entitled: Terrestrial Salamanders – Wolves of the Forest Floor to the Friends of Fresh Pond on Saturday May 4th, 2013 from 1pm – 3pm at the Maynard Ecology Center. Immediately following the talk we will visit the three study sites at Fresh Pond. There will be an additional training session that will discuss the monitoring project at Fresh Pond as well some time this spring.

On April 3rd, 2013 Elizabeth Wylde, Susan Coolidge, Deb Albenberg and Brooks Mathewson set out 24 – 12 inch by 18 inch untreated, rough-cut, eastern hemlock boards as artificial cover objects (ACOs). The use of ACOs is a common method used to monitor eastern red-backed salamanders as it limits the disturbance to natural cover and it standardizes sampling efforts. Eight ACOs were installed in three separate areas – the Woodland Restoration Project area or “the corner”, Lusitania Woods, and the Eastern Hemlock stand in Kingsley Park. The ACOs were set along two parallel 90 foot transects spaced 30 feet apart. Along each transect ACOs were placed 30 feet apart resulting in four boards on each transect.

The ACOs will be monitored by Brooks Mathewson and volunteers roughly every two to three weeks throughout the spring, summer, and fall within 24 hours of a precipitation event in 2013.

On Saturday, May 4th from 1 pm – 3pm at the Maynard Ecology Center Brooks Mathewson will be presenting a talk about the ecology of red-backed salamanders entitled: Terrestrial Salamanders – Wolves of the Forest Floor to the Friends of Fresh Pond. Immediately following the talk will be a site walk visiting three study sites at Fresh Pond.

An additional training session will be held this spring, date TBD. 

Eastern red-backed salamanders are the most abundant vertebrates in northeastern forests with a biomass twice that of breeding birds.  Due to this abundance and their position in the middle of the food web, red-backs are extremely ecologically important.  Ground foraging birds, such as thrushes and wood warblers, small mammals, and reptiles all prey on red-backs. In addition, as top-level predators of invertebrates on the forest floor red-backs may play a role in regulating the rate of decomposition of leaf litter on the forest floor.  By preying on the invertebrates that shred the leaf litter it is believed red-backs help to reduce the amount of surface area available to bacteria and fungi thereby indirectly reducing decomposition rates. Therefore, a healthy red-backed salamander population can lead to higher levels of carbon storage on the forest floor in the form of leaf litter.  This has significant implications for the global carbon budget as it is estimated that ten times as much CO2 is released into the atmosphere through leaf litter decomposition as by any anthropogenic source.

The 2013 study aims to investigate potential red-backed salamander populations at Fresh Pond Reservation. The goals for the monitoring project are as follows:

  • To determine whether salamanders are found at Fresh Pond and to learn more about their habitat preferences within the reservation.  
  • To compare potential salamander populations with populations at other sites including the Arnold Arboretum, Mount Auburn Cemetery, and woodlands throughout central Massachusetts. 
  • To use this study as a way to teach the Friends of Fresh Pond and the general public about the ecological importance of red-backed salamanders. 
  • To set the foundation for a long-term monitoring project that will help to gauge the relative stability of this important organism at Fresh Pond Reservation.

 

To aid the monitoring project, several artificial cover objects (ACOs) have been placed throughout the Fresh Pond Reservation to standardize sampling efforts for monitoring. Red-backed salamanders are much more common on the surface of the forest floor when it is moist.  When a red-backed salamander is encountered snout-to-vent length (SVL), total length, and weight are recorded.  Analysis of body condition can be accomplished by studying the relationship between SVL and weight of individuals in a population.  Color-morph ratios will be calculated as well.  Red-backed salamanders commonly occur in two color morphs – the lead-backed or unstriped morph and the red-backed or striped morph.  Lead-backed morphs, which prefer warmer temperatures, are becoming more common throughout their range as average temperatures increase.  Color morph ratios in Fresh Pond populations will be compared with populations at the Arnold Arboretum and Mount Auburn Cemetery as well as populations in central Massachusetts.

  • Photo of an eastern red-backed salamander, taken by Brooks Mathewson.

    Photo of an eastern red-backed salamander, taken by Brooks Mathewson.

  • Photo of an eastern red-backed salamander, taken by Brooks Mathewson.

    Photo of an eastern red-backed salamander, taken by Brooks Mathewson.

  • Photo of an eastern red-backed salamander, taken by Brooks Mathewson.

    Photo of an eastern red-backed salamander, taken by Brooks Mathewson.

  • Photo of an eastern red-backed salamander, taken by Brooks Mathewson.

    Photo of an eastern red-backed salamander, taken by Brooks Mathewson.

Have questions or comments about Eastern Red-backed Salamander Monitoring Project? Email us!

Or, if you are interested in joining the Salamander Monitoring group, please email Brooks Mathewson at

bgmathewson@post.harvard.edu