Climate change will have sweeping impacts across the northeast, yet there are key gaps in our understanding about whether species will be able to adapt to this changing environment. This project illuminates local and region-wide changes in forest ecosystems by studying the red-backed salamander, a species that is a strong indicator of forest conditions. This study identified habitat and forest characteristics that improve the resiliency of forest dwelling amphibians and other wildlife to climate change. Further, by studying a foundational species in forest floor ecosystems, we can use this information to make inferences about rare and declining species. As a benefit of the collaborative nature and scope of this project, we were able to advance scientific education through multiple means: training current and upcoming scientists, encouraging primary school student’s participation in STEM fields, and increasing scientific literacy about climate change through education exhibits at nature centers and zoos.
The findings of this study indicate surface activity of salamanders across populations appears to respond similarly to temperature and rainfall, suggesting that there is not local adaptation to foraging on the forest floor. Individual growth rates suffer, as expected, as metabolic costs under warmer temperatures increase, and though prior work suggests that the two color morphs have differential susceptibility to increased temperatures, our work in a rangecenter population fails to find support for this difference. Overall, these populations may be at the edge of their thermal tolerance, meaning that they lack adaptive capacity to exposure to increased temperatures, suggesting a limit to the physiologic adaptive capacity.
The final report, "Characterizing Local and Rangewide Variation in Demography and Adaptive Capacity of a Forest Indicator Species" is now available. AI: Evan Grant; USGS
Written by Communications Intern Mike Crowley