by Andres Clavier, Freshwater Stewardship Education Intern
World Habitat Day, October 2nd, offers a moment to reflect on the interconnectedness of life within our Canadian landscapes. To commemorate, let us delve into the fascinating world of a prolific Canadian salamander species: the Eastern Red-Backed Salamander (Plethodon cinereus). This amphibian can teach us much about the value of shoreline habitats and the crucial role that we can play in conserving these unique ecosystems.
From Manitoba to the Maritimes, the Eastern Red-Backed Salamander is a vital component in nutrient cycling between our aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and they are often considered great environmental indicators due to their sensitivity to decays in water quality and temperature changes (Walton, et al., 2018). In spring, these salamanders lay eggs in damp environments, often beneath logs or rocks within shoreline land. Temporary bodies of water, known as vernal pools, play a crucial part in their lifecycle. These pools, devoid of predatory fish, provide a safe breeding ground for the larvae to develop and grow (Semlitsch and Bodie, 1998).
As summer arrives, mature salamanders migrate into the upland forest, where leaf litter near shorelines becomes their primary feeding ground. They feast on invertebrates, controlling pests and promoting biodiversity (Davic and Welsh, 2004). When winter sets in, the salamanders retreat to rocky shoreline crevices for hibernation. These spaces, buffered by the adjacent water, provide stable temperature conditions essential for survival throughout the cold Canadian winter months (Storey and Storey, 1986).
Beyond pest regulation, salamanders significantly impact the nutrient cycle. A study in the Journal of Applied Ecology (Walton, et al., 2018) emphasized their contribution to forest health by redistributing nutrients from aquatic to terrestrial ecosystems.
The survival of the Eastern Red-Backed Salamander underscores the importance of preserving shoreline habitats. This responsibility does not just lie with environmental organizations or governmental bodies; shoreline property owners also have a significant role to play. Riparian buffers, vegetated areas along water bodies, help maintain these critical habitats. They provide natural filtration, control erosion, and create wildlife corridors. Property owners can help by preserving existing vegetation, limiting fertilizer and pesticide use, and reducing impervious surfaces, all of which contribute to the health of these buffer zones (Mayer et al., 2007).
World Habitat Day is a reminder of the biodiversity that thrives in our backyards and the shared responsibility we have in preserving it. By protecting shoreline habitats on our properties, we not only ensure the survival of the Eastern Red-Backed Salamander, but we also contribute to the broader ecological health of our waterways. Shoreline property owners can take action by restoring their shoreline property using Watersheds Canada’s Guide to Preparing a Shoreline Naturalization Planting Plan and Native Plant Care Guide, or by booking a site visit with the Natural Edge shoreline renaturalization team.
Another great way to help local species is by symbolically adopting an Eastern Red-Backed Salamander. All symbolic adoptions are Canadian tax receipt eligible, and directly fund habitat restoration and enhancement projects across Canada.
Indeed, there are many ways to help our shoreline species thrive. We must take the time to honour the interconnectedness of life on our planet and work together to safeguard our precious habitats for future generations of wildlife and people to come.
Davic, R.D., Welsh, H.H. (2004). On the ecological roles of salamanders. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 35: 405-434.
Mayer, P.M., et al. (2007). Riparian buffer width, vegetative cover, and nitrogen removal effectiveness: A review of current science and regulations. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-05/118.
Semlitsch, R.D., Bodie, J.R. (1998). Are small, isolated wetlands expendable? Conservation Biology, 12: 1129-1133.
Storey, K.B., Storey, J.M. (1986). Freeze tolerance and intolerance as strategies of winter survival in terrestrially-hibernating amphibians. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Physiology, 83(4): 613-617.
Walton, Z., Sam, K., Spears, L.E. (2018). Salamanders and nutrient cycling: Direct and indirect impacts on ecosystem function. Journal of Applied Ecology, 55: 1288-1299.