Rapid Change – A Tale of Two Species

UConn Today

When thinking about the impact of environmental change on species, certain animals in far-off places tend to come to mind: the ‘charismatic megafauna’ – such as polar bears, orangutans, and penguins, for example – that are at risk due to factors such as habitat destruction or over-hunting by humans. And yet some species actually flourish in times of change.
You need to develop and implement [conservation] strategies really far in advance. You can’t start when you only have 10 individuals of a species left. — Mark Urban
In Connecticut, two examples of such disparate species stories are the marbled salamander and the saltmarsh sparrow.
These two stories are linked by the change of a single but very important variable. While it may not sound like much, a rise in global temperatures by just a few degrees is enough to tip the scale, resulting in huge impacts on the ecosystems where these species exist. The climate in this region has changed enough to allow for predatory salamanders to completely alter pond biodiversity, and the sea level rise that accompanies climate change will likely lead to extinction of the saltmarsh sparrow within the next 40 years.
The ‘Best of Times’ for a marbled salamander
The first example involves an amphibian that associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology Mark Urban is studying, the marbled salamander, Ambystoma opacum.
The marbled salamander under ice in a pond that has grown very green with algae, as the salamander has disrupted the ecosystem. “I can look at a pond and can pretty much tell you with certainty if a predatory salamander is there or not,” says Mark Urban. “Since they eat the animals that graze on algae, they make the ponds bright green.” (Mark Urban/UConn Photo)Marbled salamanders lay their eggs in ponds and vernal pools in the fall, so the hatchlings must survive generally harsh winter conditions. This …

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