Inside The New York Botanical Garden

Salamander Survey Seeks to Shine Some Sun on “Slippery” Subject

Posted in Science, Video on December 1 2010, by Plant Talk

Rustin Dwyer is Visual Media Production Specialist at The New York Botanical Garden.

The 50-acre native forest at The New York Botanical Garden is a very special section of New York City. It’s the largest and oldest remnant of old growth forest around, and it’s right here in the Bronx! It’s almost like a time machine that gives a faint glimpse of the past. Strolling through, it’s not hard to imagine the kind of environments Henry Hudson and the Lenape people walked through. (For more on this subject check out the WLC’s Welikia project, previously known as Manhatta)

An ongoing survey at The Garden hopes to shed some light, sometimes literally, on a resident of the forest often overlooked — the tiny salamander. In particular, the terrestrial redback salamander, Plethodon cinereus. These little guys are one of the key species in the ecology of the forest. According to one of the wildlife biologists conducting the survey (Michael McGraw from Applied Ecological Services) the Redback salamander is thought to be the most abundant form of biomass in some northern deciduous forests. In a suitable area, you may be able to see one “under any rock you flip.” That’s a lot of amphibians!

The survey consists of a series of “cover boards” spread out strategically across the forest. These boards are simply rubber mats that provide a nice, cool dark place that salamanders like to congregate under (much like densely packed leaf mass). These boards are periodically checked, with biologists taking note of the number, size and significant features of any salamanders they may find. It gets a little dirty and the salamanders are tiny, quick and extremely squirmy, but the biologists and a few volunteer citizen scientists braved through to successfully gather their data during their latest visit.

Check out a video of their work featuring Forest Manager Jessica Schuler after the jump!


Eileen said:

Wow, loved the video! I did a painting of the red backed for a Guild of Natural Science Illustrators exhibit last year. It received good comments and was purchased by a visitor! I had no idea such a study was being done. It was a delight of my childhood to find salamanders in Forest Park in Queens- a delight that has remained with me years later! Thank you.