Salamanders in Da Bronx

As part of New York City Wildflower Week, I went up to Van Cortlandt Park in the nether reaches of the Bronx to join Ellen Pehek in turning over some old wood. Ellen is the NYC Parks & Rec Principal Research Ecologist and involved in a study monitoring Eastern Red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus). How do they respond to stressed, invasive-filled woodlands, as compared to relatively healthy forests? Wooden boards, one on top of the other with a little spacer in-between (I called them wood sandwichs) have been set up. The boards are now quite hard to find with the understory layer thickly covering the forest floor (the study checks them in the fall, when it’s easier). So we also turned over some downed tree branches. Red-backed like these cool, damp places, in fact must have them, since they breath through their skin (having no lungs). Of course, the dark and dank also attracts other creatures. We found three individual salamanders: one little juvenile; one the so-called “leadback” type, the same species but without the reddish stripe; and one with the stripe, although this one was was more dull orangish than red.The leadbacks seem to predominate in hotter, dryer habitats.

NYC salamanders have also been the subject of another study that found urban woodland specimens tougher than their country cousins when it comes to battling a pathogenic fungus that’s taking a high toll of amphibians around the world.

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