Restoration efforts give hope to an Appalachian salamander
Restoring red spruce forests can help the threatened Cheat Mountain salamander
Scientists recently looked at the conditions conducive to amphibians—specifically the Cheat Mountain salamander—in West Virginia, and found reason for hope for this threatened species.
The scientists compared conditions of existing forests with areas that have recently undergone ecological restoration, including former surface mining or “strip” mining sites. The scientists found that, while the restoration sites were not the best for the ,salamanders, the efforts to restore the forests give promise for the salamander. The scientists published their results in the Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management in January of this year.
So named because they are found in the Cheat Mountain region of West Virginia, Cheat Mountain salamanders are distinguished by their golden flecked dark brown backs. They are slim and small, usually only four inches long from snout to tail.
Their range is small, too. An individual salamander will rarely leave its 48-square-foot territory, an area that is smaller than a lot of bedrooms. The members of this threatened species lack lungs and thus rely on respiring through their skin, mouths, and throats. This characteristic restricts them to habitats with moist ground cover. During dry spells, they dig into the leaf litter cover of the forest to survive.
Of all the invertebrate species—birds, mammals, fish, lizards—the loss of biodiversity is greatest for amphibians. At least one third of amphibian species are currently threatened with extinction, according to The International Union for Conservation of Nature. Most amphibians live a dual aquatic/terrestrial life. For example, toads, which hop around on the land start out in life as tadpoles swimming around in small pools and ponds. This dual nature is where they get their name, which is derived from the Greek “amphibios,” meaning “living a double life.”
Appalachian forests before the mines and sawmills
I grew up within 100 miles of Cheat Mountain. Drives to that area were some of my favorites. The two-lane roads usually followed valley floors, with expansive tree-covered mountains on either side. Bucolic farmer’s fields sometimes interrupted the forests. You could often spend a quarter mile, a half mile or more sometimes, completely engulfed in a tree tunnel, the branches of the maples and sycamores reaching over and completely shading the roadway.
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