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Elusive salamanders have role in developing new sampling models

Rare salamanders at a Georgia military base are the guinea pigs for Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers whose goal is to develop methods to better determine whether a species has vanished.

After not finding any flatwoods salamanders since 2001, Fort Stewart biologists were a bit concerned and were looking for a better survey method, said Mark Bevelhimer, an aquatic ecologist and member of ORNL's Environmental Sciences Division. A Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program project is helping in that area and addressing even greater challenges.

"Just because you don't see any of the specific species you are looking for doesn't mean they aren't there," Bevelhimer said. "So for us, our task is to develop a method to make field sampling techniques more accurate and efficient. With that information, we can improve our models, and we should be able to do a better job of predicting the type and location of suitable habitats plus minimize unnecessary and time-consuming sampling."

Of more than 1,000 seasonal ponds at the 280,000-acre military facility in southeastern Georgia, 483 have been identified as potential candidates to support this particular salamander, technically known as Ambystoma cingulatum. Until April 21, however, none had been found over a stretch that spanned four years. Researchers noted that this was not totally unexpected because of a 100-year drought event that dried ponds and halted reproduction from 1999 through 2002. Since the first salamander was found six weeks ago, 36 more have been found in one pond, but none in 11 others that have supported them in the past.

In the United States, flatwoods salamanders are found only in Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. The adults lay their eggs in wetland depressions in the late fall. With winter rains, the ponds rise and the eggs hatch in December, January and February. Larval development lasts through May. The larvae then undergo metamorphosis and leave the p
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Source:DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory


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