Researchers in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park have determined salamanders as a potential indicator species for climate change in the region.
Salamanders are highly senstive to changes in heat and moisture, to the extent people cannot handle salamanders with their skin.
Environmental warming threatens the cool, moist and high-elevation conditions in which the salamanders can survive.
GSMNP is known as salamander capital because it’s home to over 30 species of salamanders, more than any other single location in the world. Some species of salamanders live in Tennessee and cannot be found anywhere else in the world, like the cave salamander and Jordans red-cheek salamander.
Gar Secrist is the salamander specialist at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont.
“We are using the salamanders as an indicator of how healthy those streams are but even potentially for things like climate change,” Gar said.
Tremont is an environmental education center partnered with GSMNP.
Tremont performs monthly population analyzes around their on-site stream environments to track how salamanders are existing in their shifting habitats. Because salamanders play a vital role in the stream ecosystems, they are a strong indicator species on ecosystem health.
Salamanders are amphibians, a classification of cold-blooded animals that include frogs and toads. They resemble lizards, but have rubbery skins, rather than the scales of their twins. Each of the more than 500 species are unique patterns, colors, sizes and reproductive processes.
The salamander’s sensitivity could be their strongest power for the researchers who study them.