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Salamander Populations Reduced by Climate Change

3/3/2009 9:19:08 AM

Tags: global warming, salamanders, extinction, endangered species, Megan Hirt


Biologists from the University of California, Berkeley, have reported that salamander populations in parts of Central America have declined sharply in the past 40 years — and global warming could be the cause.

UC Berkeley researchers compared data of current salamander populations in western Guatemala and southern Mexico to data collected from the locations between 1969 and 1978. The team found that two of the most common species of salamanders in the areas 40 years ago are extinct, and several others have experienced large drops in number.

Amphibian populations have been declining worldwide, and experts have attributed the drops in other amphibian species — such as the well-documented plummeting of frog populations — to factors such as pesticides, predators and habitat destruction.

But according to David Wake, professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley and the new study’s lead researcher, the salamanders in Guatemala lived on a controlled nature preserve, so neither outside predators nor human disturbance could have been responsible for their startling disappearance.

The nature preserve couldn’t guard the salamanders from the effects of global warming, however, and the climate conditions of salamanders’ habitat did change over the past 40 years. Salamanders are highly sensitive to climate and humidity, so even a slight increase in temperature could have caused them to seek higher elevations. Having thrived at their former altitudes for thousands of years, the salamanders were unable to adjust to these new habitats, researchers suspect.

Unlike other amphibians, salamanders are famously secretive creatures and often go unseen by all but keen, deliberate observers. Wake says salamanders’ effects in ecosystems do not go unnoticed, however: In forests, salamanders account for a large amount of biomass. Certain species even depend on salamanders for their own survival, such as the salamander-eating snake, which, according to Wake, is also showing signs of population decline.

See Science Daily's article for more information on Wake and his colleagues’ study, and check out A Wealth of Salamanders for more on these fascinating creatures and their unique presence in North America.

Photo by iStockphoto/Armin Hinterwirth

Megan Hirt is an Associate Editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Find her on .

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3/11/2009 4:46:03 PM
RandallSix- The article makes no claims as to the cause of global warming. It simply states that the climate change could be a possible reason for the rapid decline in the populations of these amphibians. Global warming or not, the extinction of a species is something that should be investigated. Leaving the global warming debate out of it- I must still comment on something you said. "...but the earth isn't dying because of what the average person does during the course of their daily routine." Well, we really don't know that for sure. The earth, its ecosystems and inhabitants are showing a number of signs of distress that extend far beyond the scope of global warming. Perhaps what you said is correct-- the average person, one average person is not responsible for these stresses, but we are many people. Furthermore, if the routine of the average person is not cause for concern, then perhaps you should consider the routines of the CEO's and executives of the businesses that continually profit from the exploitation and abuse of the natural world. To narrow down human impact on the earth to a question of whether or not you use papertowels or cloth towels or ride the train to work or use your car, is misleading. We may be inclined to think that we (alone) could not possibly have any great impact on the state of the environment. But we must look at the bigger picture. Part of that also means that we should recognize there are more issues at hand than just that of global warming. I hope you have a wonderful day too.

3/8/2009 1:06:42 PM
Can we please stop with the global warming nonsense? Climate change is natural. I don't disagree that pollution is something we should keep at a minimum, but the earth isn't dying because of what the average person does during the course of their daily routine. I remember in the 70's, all the talk was about the next Ice Age, now we're moved to this. Will this fizzle out to the next common consensus as well? There's alot of independent as well as organized research that shows that global warming studies aren't exactly conclusive. Have a wonderful day to all! RP

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