About State of Ecosystems
Learning how to preserve 'indicator' amphibians
can help in saving other plants and animals
in similar environments, says zoologist
The Jefferson salamander, a threatened species known
for its slippery skin and extremely long toes, is providing
U of G researchers with important clues about the state
of Ontario's ecosystems. In fact, it may even help identify
species that could be next on the endangered list.
Prof. Jim Bogart, Zoology, says the Jefferson salamander
is an "indicator" species. Its conditions or quality
of life mirror the conditions of other species or the environment
at large. Its presence signifies that the environment is
suitable for a large number of organisms that require an
uncontaminated and undisturbed mixed forest region, he says.
But something is killing the North American amphibian in
certain regions, placing it on the threatened species list
of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in
Canada. Because it's an indicator species, whatever is harming
the Jefferson is probably killing off other animals, too,
"The Jefferson can serve as a warning for environmental
health. Learning how to preserve it can help us preserve
many other plants and animals that live in similar environments."
Bogart is a member of the federal Jefferson salamander
recovery team, which involves the Canadian Wildlife Service
of Environment Canada and Ontario's Ministry of Natural
Resources (OMNR). He's been pinpointing locations where
Jefferson populations have been found for the past two decades
as part of a preservation effort.
Normally, it's easy to track salamanders because they're
long-lived and can be monitored throughout their lifetime.
But the Jefferson is different, says Bogart. It always lives
with polyploid females - females with more than two sets
of chromosomes that are a "hybrid" of the "pure"
species, Ambystoma jeffe- rsonianum. It's difficult
to distinguish the pure species from the hybrid, so genetic
analysis is necessary for proper identification, he says.
Learning which ponds the salamanders use for reproduction
will make it easier to identify areas that need to be preserved,
adds Bogart. Salamanders move from their "home"
pond to underground areas after a very short breeding season,
which means it may be necessary to preserve land up to one
kilometre in radius from their breeding ponds.
Bogart is making maps of the Jefferson's habitats - including
areas across southern Ontario such as the Niagara Escarpment,
Haldimand-Norfolk County and small areas in York Region,
and hopes they will be available by 2005. He is also completing
a lengthy investigation of the salamander throughout its
natural range from New England through Indiana and from
Ontario to Kentucky.
"The goal is to know exactly where these salamanders
are living," he says. "Then we can justify legislation
to protect these areas."
His research is being sponsored by the OMNR, the Natural
Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Endangered
Species Recovery Fund of World Wildlife Fund Canada.