The Biosphere and Climate project focuses on climate change in New England, and its effects on our organisms. However, a lot of research is being conducted elsewhere on species that make their home here, and we want to report on this research as well as other findings of interest.

Red-backed salamander, Photo by Rklawton

This week, we report on a study of climate effects on  several species of lungless salamanders. These small and inconspicuous creatures of the forest floor have been shown to play an important role in the energy and nutrient budgets of temperate forests such as those that cover much of eastern North America.  The numbers are  impressive: studies have found as many as 1,000 red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) per acre in northern hardwood forests. 

There’s not much information on changes in their New England populations due to global climate change, but that’s largely due to the fact that not every species in every country has been studied. In the Smokey Mountains, historical data show that over a period of 55 years, the region has become warmer and drier. Researchers showed that these conditions lead to a faster metabolism, and for six species of the genus Plethodon, the researchers found a significant decrease in body size over the time period in question. Because the researchers focused only on members of the genus Plethodon, so they did not look into changes in other lungless salamanders, or into those with lungs.

Whether or not these changes are currently occurring in New England, they give us a pretty good idea what the response would be if similar changes in climate occur here. Other studies from other parts of the country can provide similar insight into what’s happening to species living in our region, and in the coming weeks, we’ll be providing updates on that research.  

(For more on this study, see ScienceDaily and the original paper in Global Change Biology)