Not every research program that takes place in the Thain Family Forest is geared explicitly toward the trees, though the work done there does tend to knit together at the end of the day. Think of it as a domino effect; an influence on one organism can herald a drastic fallout for others in the web of an individual biome. And, in some cases, certain varieties of plants or animals are relied on as indicator species—”canaries in the coal mine” that speak to the overall health of a given area, signifying changes for better or worse that might otherwise be too subtle to recognize. Salamanders, wherever they’re found, are often a flagship example.
In recent years, a handful of studies here have focused on the small salamander species that call our Forest home: the northern two-lined salamander (Eurycea bislineata), a water-reliant species native to the U.S. and Canada, and the terrestrial redback or woodland salamander (Plethodon cinereus), a species that has evolved to live away from water. Considering how delicate these quick, slippery little amphibians are on average, it’s quite the feat to strike off and make a living under rocks and leaf litter. Of course, even a particular resilience among their own kind doesn’t excuse them from the effects of climate, urbanization, and other challenges.
Xavier Cornejo, a former Research Assistant at NYBG, is a curator of the GUAY Herbarium at the University of Guayaquil, Ecuador. His main research interests are the taxonomy of Neotropical Capparaceae and the conservation of mangroves and terra firme forests in western Ecuador.
Each year the Institute for Species Exploration of Arizona State University selects 10 species from among the estimated 18,000 new species of plants, animals, or fungi as the most interesting published in the previous year. In 2012, 140 species were nominated and only two of those selected were flowering plants—a miniature violet named Viola liliputana from the Peruvian Andes, and a species of the Myrtle family, Eugenia petrikensis from Madagascar.
We are especially pleased to see the violet selected because we know both of the authors: Harvey Ballard, now an Associate Professor at Ohio University, and Hugh H. Iltis, former Director of the Herbarium of the University of Wisconsin and research mentor to our research and Ballard’s alike. Hugh collected this spectacular violet nearly 50 years ago and was so impressed by the miniature high Andean plant that he took copious notes about the species, which was published in Brittonia by Springer for The New York Botanical Garden. We take this opportunity to recognize the accomplishments of Hugh Iltis in conservation and botanical science, and to thank him for the role that he has played in our careers.
Deep in the Forest, Rebecca Policello–a student from Ossining High School–treks through the underbrush. She isn’t a wayward sightseer, but rather a curious student interested in something others normally overlook: Eastern Redback salamanders (Plethodon cinereus). Spending their entire lives on land and even thriving in urban environments such as The New York Botanical Garden, the subjects of Rebecca’s study could reveal new information about the decline that is sweeping over amphibian populations worldwide.
The amphibian decline has been primarily attributed to the disease Chytridiomycosis, which is caused by a pathogenic fungus, B. dendrobatidis. Teamed up with Dr. Jim Lewis of Fordham University and Ms. Jessica Arcate Schuler of The New York Botanical Garden, Rebecca set out to determine if changes in the immediate area due to urbanization are enough to impact the salamanders’ defenses.