Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

July 24, 2002

Salamanders could shed light on effects of deforestation

University of Guelph researchers are taking Ontario’s first salamander census in a mixed boreal forest designated for harvesting to determine the effects of tree-cutting practices on the ecosystem.

Master’s student Shana Truant and environmental biology professor Gerry Stephenson are focusing their research on salamanders because they’re a good indicator of the health of a forest ecosystem.

"They’re like the canary in the mine," said Truant. "Salamanders need a cool, moist environment. When you clear cut an area, the temperature and moisture are very much affected. The more we know about the salamander, the more we know about the environment."

This spring, Truant set up six monitoring sites in White River in northern Ontario, on land owned by the forestry company, Domtar. She’ll be returning to the site in August with Dean Thompson of the Canadian Forest Service to survey the salamander population until the snow falls. They’ll be using different survey methods along a night transect for determining the existing salamander population.

"We actually go out at night and walk this transect line, which is 100 metres in length, and search for salamanders with a headlamp," said Truant. "If we find any, we pick them up and mark them using a technique called visible implant elastomer, which fluoresces." After marking the amphibians, the researchers will conduct a salamander count.

There are five species of salamanders in northern Ontario, but they are nocturnal and few studies have been completed on salamander population dynamics. "If you don’t know the population size to begin with, how do you know when they’re affected?" said Truant.

The second part of the study, which is funded by the Canadian Forest Service, Ontario Living Legacy and Domtar, will involve observing the change in salamander population after the forest has been harvested.

In the winter of 2003/2004, Domtar will use several different techniques of harvesting the forest on Truant’s survey site. Tree-cutting operations use a variety of methods, including clear-cutting (completely cutting all trees), strip cutting (cutting alternating bands of trees) and stand thinning (removal of intermediate-growth trees only). When trees are removed, more of the forest floor is exposed to sunlight, increasing the temperature and evaporating the moisture from the soil.

Following the harvest, the researchers will assess which method of removing trees is the least harmful to the salamander population.

"We don't know what we're going to find," said Truant. "But this study will help us to understand the effects of different lumber cutting styles on salamanders and the environment."

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