Gaining knowledge and improving societal value for terrestrial salamanders: A model for amphibian conservation
The decline of amphibians can alter food webs, nutrient cycling and ecosystem function. Terrestrial salamanders, which contribute significantly to amphibian biodiversity, are cryptic and often go unrecognized in local conservation efforts despite their substantial contribution to vertebrate biomass in Eastern U.S. forested ecosystems. Climate change is expected to alter temperature and moisture, potentially influencing terrestrial salamanders across the Northern U.S.. Climate effects are expected to occur across broad spatial scales, requiring professional researchers to collect information and perform experiments across large landscapes to understand the impacts and potential adaptive capacity of broadly distributed species. Citizen science programs can garner large, spatially relevant data sets while also increasing local awareness for environmental concerns. We present the framework and first year of data from SPARCnet (Salamander Population and Adaptation Research Collaborative Network), a regional collaboration network of researchers and educators aimed to understand range-wide demographic variability and adaptive capacity of the eastern red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus) to climate change. Using cover board surveys as a standard sampling technique, we employ a spatially hierarchical sampling framework using presence, count, and mark recapture data to estimate the influence of local weather and land use on population demographics, occupancy and color morph frequencies of P. cinereus.
Citizen science monitoring sites are used to collect data on presence and counts of salamanders and educational programs focused on salamander ecology, conservation and climate change are used to increase local awareness of amphibian biodiversity. SPARCnet additionally aims to increase societal value of amphibians through the development of tools and resources for citizens of varying age groups to collect and contribute data while learning about local issues related to amphibian ecology, conservation and climate change. Although amphibians are widely distributed, local populations can be important to local communities. Thus, the benefits of including amphibians in Citizen Science programs include increased scientific learning of hidden diversity, as well as increased conservation of amphibians because this information and awareness can be incorporated into making local environmental decisions. Frontiers in conservation of cryptic taxa, such as woodland salamanders, require the involvement of local communities to put into practice the conservation science generated by professionals.