On a rainy Saturday morning April 29, ten volunteers joined our staff in a search for salamanders living among the forest duff at Emily Min Hunt Preserve in Presque Isle County. This new effort in community-driven science is helping Huron Pines gauge the health of the ecosystem by monitoring the prevalence and diversity of these wormlike amphibians in their native habitat.
For this study, 40 plywood coverboards were laid out weeks ahead of time across a 600-square-foot area near the edge of a wooded wetland. Each about the size of a laptop, these planks are an ideal place for salamanders to hide — and a convenient place for citizen scientists to look for and collect salamanders.
When a salamander is found, volunteers work to swiftly and carefully contain it inside a plastic sandwich bag to protect it from being overhandled. While bagged, the salamander is quickly measured — both from head to tail and head to vent (a small opening on the salamander’s underside) — before being safely released moments later.
A total of 14 salamanders were found that morning, each drawing a huddle of onlookers. Volunteers spent about half an hour systematically turning each of the 40 coverboards and recording data on rain-proof paper.
“This baseline population data is really useful for us as land managers,” said Julia Butch, Land Protection Coordinator and event organizer for Huron Pines. “The presence and abundance of salamanders here indicate healthy habitats and will help guide our future management efforts at the preserve.”
This event was part of our Protect Wild Places program, supported by the Consumers Energy Foundation, which is working to empower Michigan communities to support the land and water to restore 5,000 acres of wildlife habitat and recreational land, and 150 miles of waterways and Great Lakes shoreline.