Disease and Habitat Loss Threatening a Unique Salamander in New Mexico
The Jemez Mountains salamander is in trouble.
Ninety percent of the Jemez Mountains salamanders live in and around the Valles Caldera in New Mexico, and the species has been federally listed under the Endangered Species Act since 2013. They spend most of their time underground in damp soils since they have no lungs and absorb oxygen through their skin. Despite this, the Jemez Mountains salamander is strictly terrestrial from birth with no tadpole stage of development.
Recent catastrophic wildfires, fire suppression measures, road construction, and unsustainable logging practices means that this area of New Mexico has lost much of the coarse woody debris and forest canopy that provides vital microhabitat for the Jemez Mountains salamander. And yet, that doesn’t tell the whole story of their decline.
Amphibian fungal pathogens have also been detected in three Jemez Mountains salamanders and other amphibians in the area, prompting us at the Amphibian and Reptile Conservancy (ARC) to work alongside the US Forest Service, National Park Service, and Dr. Nancy Karraker of the University of Rhode Island to get a more complete picture of how widespread the disease may be and to understand how it is being spread.
We are actively collecting samples from tiger salamanders, chorus frogs, and other species in habitats of Jemez Mountains salamanders, and conducting extensive lab work so we can determine which species may be responsible for transferring this pathogen to Jemez Mountains salamanders. Once we have identified the vector of disease, our next step is to create a plan to mitigate or reverse the effects of the pathogen and habitat loss.
In addition, ARC and partners are supporting efforts by Dr. Karraker and federal agencies to develop and test a new tool, called artificial logs, to monitor declining populations of Jemez Mountains salamanders.
These hollow wooden boxes, filled with wet wood chips, provide supplemental habitat for salamanders and allow researchers to monitor populations while limiting disturbance to natural cover objects. Over 950 artificial cover objects, including artificial logs, rocks, and rock piles, have been distributed across national forest and national park lands in the Jemez Mountains and testing is underway.
Please make a donation to ARC today to help save the Jemez Mountains salamander and other herp species from disease and habitat loss.