After hiking two miles to their campsite, a group of fifteen Hiram students and sustainability coordinator, Zack Fox ’21, eagerly awaited dusk before setting up minnow traps to capture amphibians. To limit the amount of disturbance to the ponds and amphibians, only a select group of students assisted with the campout.

“Students are able to connect more closely to these animals by seeing them up close and learn about their behavior and ecology while observing it happen in real-time,” said Fox. “In addition, spending time in nature, especially for extended periods, has all sorts of benefits for mental and physical health. Many students noted feeling calmer, happier, or more focused even after our very short foray into the woods.”

The campout was first created last spring as an opportunity to get students outside and feel more comfortable in the outdoors.

“Late March in Ohio is typically rainy and, in the forties, so not ideally comfortable for camping. However, it is ideal for the frogs and salamanders as they emerge and start moving to their breeding pools. So, focusing on amphibians lets us turn the unfavorable weather into something to look forward to,” said Fox.

During the campout, students were able to catch and identify amphibians and later enjoyed a campfire where they discussed amphibian ecology. The next morning, students awoke, checked traps with Fox and spent more time with the creatures that were caught. Overall, seven species of salamanders and two species of frogs were captured for study.

In recent years, there have been two main projects of salamander research through the James H. Barrow Biological Field Station. One focuses on sampling forest salamanders using cover boards—plywood and natural wood boards, and students identify what salamanders are found underneath. Nicole Ryman ’19 first started the project and Henry Schwendler ’21 continued the research, furthering the study by additionally sampling vernal pools—small ponds where amphibians breed. These pools are full of water during the spring, but dry throughout the rest of the year. Logan Griffin ’25 and Collin Himes ’23 will continue with both of these projects and further the understanding of how salamanders play a vital role in our ecosystems. In addition to getting population estimates for all found species, both students have been taking DNA samples to study a very strange group of salamanders called unisexual Ambystomas, which are not really a species, but a complex hybrid of up to five species!

“Salamanders manage insect populations and account for much of the energy that moves through a forest food chain,” said Fox. “Salamander populations are under threat from many things, including habitat destruction, climate change, and a fungal disease called chytrid. Understanding their roles in the ecosystem will help conservationists maintain their populations.”

By Elyse Pitkin

Similar Posts