Next Steps; Where From Here? Why the Marbled Salamander? A Partnership for Conservation
Department of Natural Resources Conservation • University of Massachusetts • Amherst
The Landscape Ecology Research Team at the The marbled salamander is the rarest salamander During the permitting process for the Millennium
Millennium Power Plant
University of Massachusetts has constructed the in Massachusetts. It is listed as a "threatened" generating plant in Charleton, Massachusetts, it
research infrastructure for an unparalleled long-term
species and is protected by the state’s Endangered was determined that, due to potential impacts to
study of amphibian populations in western Species Act. Marbled salamanders are threatened, marbled salamanders, a conservation permit was
Massachusetts. This study offers an opportunity Marbled Salamander required under the Massachusetts Endangered
in part, because suburban development and
to address many research questions with great Research and Conservation roadways eliminate important habitat and prevent Species Act. The final conservation plan included
conservation importance. three strategies to promote marbled salamander
them from reaching their breeding ponds.
conservation in the vicinity of the power plant
• How big an area is needed to support a healthy
These cryptic creatures and throughout the state.
amphibian population over time?
spend all day and most
nights underground, Habitat Conservation: acquisition and
• How independent or interconnected are amphibian
emerging only to snatch a protection of important upland habitat
populations from different breeding sites in the
passing cricket or worm. around the power plant
While spending most of
• How do roads and development affect the movement their lives in dry wood- Habitat Creation: increasing the number
of salamanders to and from breeding ponds and lands, marbled salamanders of salamanders and enhancing the
the dispersal of individuals in search of new depend on unique wet- long-term viability of the local population
breeding sites? lands called vernal pools by creating additional breeding pools
for breeding. These pools
Answering these seemingly basic questions about Targeted Research: funding research at
dry up almost every
how marbled salamanders live will allow natural the University of Massachusetts to better
resource professionals to go the next step - to determine summer, but fill with water
in the winter and spring, understand salamander habitat use and
what habitat conditions these animals need to thrive vernal pool movement patterns
in the future. With this new information, public and creating a rich and fish-free
private conservation partners alike may finally have aquatic habitat for many young amphibians The University of Massachusetts has been funda-
the odds in their favor in their efforts to keep these and invertebrates. mentally involved in implementing this conservation
wonderful creatures around in our Massachusetts plan. This exciting project has already produced
woodlands. Unlike other amphibians in Massachusetts, success stories for the marbled salamander,
marbled salamanders mate and lay their eggs in prompting media coverage on regional radio
For more information contact: late summer and early fall. Eggs deposited in dry programs and National Geographic Television.
Kevin McGarigal, Ph.D. vernal pools hatch after they are flooded by
Landscape Ecology Program* Research is shedding light on the life history of
autumn rains and the tiny salamander larvae the elusive marbled salamander and other unique
Department of Natural Resources Conservation
over-winter beneath the ice in these pools. In the vernal pool amphibians, providing critical
University of Massachusetts
spring, these larvae are important predators of information for conservation decision-making.
Amherst, MA 01003
insect larvae, crustaceans
and tadpoles. They transform
*The Landscape Ecology Program is an integrated program into terrestrial juveniles in
in teaching, research, and outreach promoting sustainable
May or June and spend
landscape management. To learn more about this program,
visit the program's website (www.umass.edu/landeco) the rest of their lives on
salamander larva land as forest animals.
Accomplishments to Date
Habitat Conservation Targeted Research - Highlights Habitat Creation - Constructed Vernal Pools
In addition to land With funding provided as a component of the conservation plan, UMASS biologists have initiated an In 1999, three vernal
around the power intensive study of marbled salamander ecology at a research site in South Hadley, MA. The research is pools were constructed
plant that was set uncovering critical information about salamander biology. Here are some early findings: in the vicinity of the
aside for salamander power plant and one
habitat, broader Picky About Ponds. Not all ponds look the same to a salamander. At our study sites, most known breeding site for
habitat conservation marbled salamanders are utilizing ponds with medium-length hydroperiods (the length of time a marbled salamanders.
efforts have emerged pond holds water). Perhaps this is because they provide the most reliable dry nesting areas, but constructed vernal pool In addition to increas-
as a result of research and technical assistance hold water long enough for larvae to reach metamorphosis in the late spring. ing the number of
provided by the University of Massachusetts. salamander populations, it is hoped that the
"Boom and Bust" Breeding Cycles. A successful breeding season may indeed be rare for establishment of an interconnected network of
• After intensive survey efforts, the UMASS marbled salamanders in Massachusetts. There are countless weather-related variables that must be pools will provide greater long-term stability for
research team identified three top priority perfect for salamanders to hatch, survive and transform into young land creatures. The result is a salamanders in the area. A UMASS biologist
conservation areas for marbled salamanders boom and bust cycle with frequent busts! The successful years must compensate for the poor ones, consulted in the design of these constructed pools
in Massachusetts. and good years may produce thousands of tiny salamanders from a single breeding pond. and researchers from the University have monitored
the pools since their creation. Here is what we
• Within these priority conservation areas, at The Longest Mile. Marbled salamanders travel impressive distances away from their breeding have found so far.
least seven parcels of land totaling over 220 ponds, sometimes over a half-mile! In our study, over half of newly emerged salamanders passed Seven amphibian species are already using the
acres have been purchased by the state and a 100-foot barrier within days of leaving their pond; one was found over 3000 feet from the pool constructed pools for breeding and/or non-breeding
private conservation trusts to advance marbled where it hatched only a few weeks before. These data suggest that these are truly terrestrial animals, habitat. These include spotted salamanders, red-
salamander conservation. These lands also offer and that protecting upland habitats is just as important as protecting breeding wetlands. spotted newts, spring peepers, gray treefrogs,
refuge to several other rare salamanders and wood frogs, green frogs and bullfrogs.
turtles and provide broader wildlife conservation Natural Navigators. Marbled salamanders appear to be amazing navigators. Not only do they
return to the same breeding pond for several years, but each salamander enters and leaves from A variety of invertebrates have also colonized
and recreational values.
precisely the same direction. This suggests that these animals may establish a home territory where these pools. Most are aquatic insects, including
they return year after year. dragonflies, damselflies, beetles, water scorpions,
mayflies, caddesflies, midges and other fly larvae.
All Populations Are Not Created Equal. These constitute an important food base for larval
A great number of variables affect whether a rare salamanders.
species like the marbled salamander will survive in These pools will be closely monitored by UMASS
a given locality. Some habitats called “sources” researchers for marbled salamanders in coming
produce an abundance of animals most generations years. If after five years, marbled salamanders
that can disperse to surrounding areas. Other habitats do not naturally colonize the constructed pools,
called “sinks” rely on the immigration of animals from they will be "seeded" with larvae from nearby sites.
source areas to maintain healthy populations. What does Data collected from these pools
this mean for protecting rare species? Conservation areas are an important component of
must be large enough to accommodate many diverse long-term research aimed at
populations to ensure long-term success. addressing important issues affecting
eastern box turtle adult marbled salamander