By: Jennah Stillman
As humans, our adventurous desire is what pushes us to explore landscapes, waters, and witness the wonders of this planet that we call home. We discover our favorite places and the ways we can pursue our passions, enjoy pastimes and find purpose in nature. Whether you choose to hike, fish, paddle, camp,
Why are salamanders important?
North America is home to the greatest abundance of salamanders in the world and is also where some of the highest diversity of species can be found. The density of salamanders make them a vital link in forest ecosystem food chains, which has been shown to mitigate carbon levels entering the atmosphere due to their role as predators. They eat up insects and other invertebrates that would otherwise convert leaf litter on the forest floor into greenhouse gasses, and instead, the salamanders’ role allows that carbon to instead go into the soil.
or whatever it may be, we must recognize that as outdoor recreationists, our roles entail more than just play. We must also protect these places; for future enjoyment, generations, and also for those that might crawl right on by our feet, unnoticed.
Although small and often unseen, salamanders are an essential community of creatures that play a key role in upkeeping healthy environments. This group of amphibians is now facing an extremely serious threat, a newly identified fungus called Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, or “Bsal” for short. Bsal is a big problem, with potentially devastating impacts to all salamander species and the ecosystems that they are rooted within. Having originated in Asia, Bsal has spread wiping out massive populations of salamanders in areas throughout Europe. Although not yet found in North America, if it were to invade, the consequences would be not only irreversible but also detrimental to the biodiversity and wellbeing of the beautiful places that we explore.
How to stop the spread of Bsal
There’s no documented case of Bsal in North America yet, but we can’t count on it staying that way. One of the biggest threats of Bsal impacting other areas is through the pet trade. It can be introduced by releasing captive salamanders into the wild, who might be infected but not show symptoms of the disease. Bsal can then invade and affect wild populations of salamanders. We, as outdoor adventurers, might also be a part of the spread. The fungus can survive in water, debris, leaf litter, and on our outdoor gear, like hiking boots. How many of us clean off our gear in between trips? If you are recreating in areas that involve contact with mud or water, especially internationally, consider cleaning your boots before and after travel.
Being aware is the first step. You may not travel overseas or be interested in purchasing pet salamanders, but we can all help by knowing what to look for while spending time outside in our favorite places. Biologists are asking the outdoor community to report any sightings of sick or dead amphibians in the wild to www.salamanderfungus.org.
We walk a line between how to fully enjoy a landscape for our adventurous purposes and how to actively preserve and protect its natural wonder for future longevity. We have a responsibility to steward, not only the places that we love, but also the species that reside there. Whatever way you choose to spend your time outdoors, you can help salamanders. You can make a difference and hopefully, together, we can save a species.