Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘amphibian crossing’

What’s Happening at Waterloo?

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

By Allegra Mitchell, CWF Biologist

 

Waterloo Village in Byram Township, Sussex County is more than a tourist attraction and local gem, it is also home to the largest cross-road amphibian migration in New Jersey. Each spring, frogs, toads, and salamanders stir from their hibernation to make their way to their breeding sites. Some of these sites, like the one at Waterloo, are vernal pools – small, temporary bodies of water that appear in early spring as snow melts and rain and groundwater gathers, and disappear throughout the summer as they evaporate. The ephemeral nature of these pools can’t support fish, which would prey on amphibian eggs and larvae. Vernal pools therefore provide some protection for amphibian offspring, with many species such as wood frogs and spotted and Jefferson salamanders – both of which are listed as New Jersey species of Special Concern – relying exclusively on these vernal pools for breeding.

 

 

The greatest challenge for amphibians breeding at Waterloo Historic Village is crossing Waterloo Road. Living in the most densely population state takes a toll on many species of wildlife in the form of habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation. Each year, many amphibians become victim to vehicular collision as they move from their hibernation sites across Waterloo Road to the vernal pool in which they reproduce. Amphibians may be disproportionately affected by vehicle-caused road mortalities compared to other wildlife because of their tendency to migrate en masse to breeding sites. These annual road mortalities can have devastating effects on amphibian population sizes, especially for the local at-risk salamander populations. In fact, as little as about 10% annual risk of road mortality in spotted salamanders can lead to the local extinction of an entire population.

 

Wood Frog eggs. Photo courtesy of MacKenzie Hall.

To address this problem, the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWF) and the New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) organized amphibian rescue efforts. Since 2002, dedicated volunteers have assisted frogs, toads, and salamanders across Waterloo Road during the busiest migration nights. This aid has proven effective in reducing amphibian road mortalities, but it is not a permanent solution to the problem. Efforts are underway to construct under-road tunnels to help guide amphibians safely across Waterloo Road. These tunnels will provide safe passage for these critters throughout the breeding season, including on their migration back into the woods where they will hibernate. Since this return migration is more sporadic and less weather-dependent than migration to the vernal pool, it is much harder to protect amphibians as they make their way back to the forest.

 

 

This year, CWF scientists have begun the initial phases of research to understand current amphibian population sizes and the impact of vehicle traffic on these animals at Waterloo. Scientists and volunteers have been out 7 days a week since amphibian migrations began in late February to tally daily roadkill on Waterloo Road. This study will be used to evaluate changes to frog, toad, and salamander populations as the under-road amphibian tunnels are installed. CWF scientists have also conducted egg mass counts in the vernal pool at Waterloo Village to estimate the current population sizes of the different amphibian species in the area. Having this knowledge will allow CWF to improve on future projects to minimize road-related human-wildlife conflicts.

 

Spotted Salamander egg mass. Photo courtesy of MacKenzie Hall.

Along with improving conditions for amphibians in this location, CWF’s work at Waterloo Village will serve as an example of New Jersey statewide initiatives to reconnect wildlife habitat as a part of the Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey (CHANJ) program. The goal of CHANJ is to make our state landscapes more permeable to wildlife movement so that all of New Jersey’s residents – human and wildlife – will have the space they need to thrive.

 

In an effort to bring people and wildlife together in a positive way at Waterloo Village, CWF scientists are leading educational walks for the public and local schools. Through hands-on interaction, local residents can learn about and appreciate the remarkable wildlife right in their own back yards and what they can do to support conservation efforts.

 

All New Jerseyans can help wildlife this season by planting native plants for their gardens, building bat boxes where bats can roost, and, of course, by keeping an eye out on the roads, especially on warm, rainy nights when amphibians might be migrating.


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Allegra Mitchell is a biologist for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

 

Exploration of An Ecosystem That Most People Will Never See

Thursday, May 5th, 2016
CWF Vernal Pool Walks Connect New Jersey Residents with Rare, Seasonal Marvel

by Lindsay McNamara, Communications Manager

AndreaProctor_SpringPeeper

Spring Peeper photo by Andrea Proctor.

We all know that “April showers bring May flowers,” but the earlier rains of March stir up beauties of a different kind. When the first spring raindrops hit the barely-thawed ground and night falls on the forest, frogs, salamanders, and toads emerge from their winter burrows. These amphibians – the spotted salamanders, wood frogs, spring peepers, and others – are anxious to get to their breeding pools and lay their eggs. The waters that they choose are called vernal pools because they fill with rainwater, snowmelt, and rising groundwater in early spring but then dry up as summer advances. The pools are thus temporary and cannot support fish, meaning fewer predators for the amphibian eggs and young.

In the northeastern United States, vernal pools are home to over 500 species. In New Jersey, these pools are critical habitat for amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates, migratory waterfowl, raptors, and songbirds. All 14 of New Jersey’s frog species use vernal pools to breed and two endangered salamander species breed exclusively in vernal pools, including Cape May’s eastern tiger salamander.

The new generation of amphibians must race to complete metamorphosis and leave the vernal pool before the water does. Under perfect conditions of warm, thawing, nighttime rains, there may be hundreds or even thousands of amphibians moving at once toward the same breeding pool. The darkness and the rain allow them to move stealthily over the landscape, hidden from predators like the owl and raccoon.

 

CWF’s Kelly Triece organized a series of walks through the vernal pools of Waterloo Village in Sussex County, New Jersey, and showed residents the unexpected creatures swimming in the pool’s shallow waters. Kelly led the exploration of an ecosystem that most people will never see! Participants listened to the songs of Spring Peepers and discovered salamander eggs, fairy shrimp, and other unique creatures as the evenings set in. Here are photos from her walks:

CWF biologist Kelly Triece educates participants on the natural resources of Waterloo.

CWF biologist Kelly Triece educates participants on the natural resources of Waterloo.

CWF biologist Kelly Triece looking for wildlife in the vernal pool.

CWF biologist Kelly Triece looking for wildlife in the vernal pool.

 

Spotted Salamander Eggs! Photo by Kelly Triece.

Spotted Salamander Eggs! Photo by Kelly Triece.

 

Green Frog photo by Kelly Triece.

Green Frog photo by Kelly Triece.

 

Examining the wildlife found in the vernal pool after dark.

Examining the wildlife found in the vernal pool after dark.

 

 

 

Learn More:

 

Lindsay McNamara is the Communications Manager for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

Road Closed: Salamander Crossing

Friday, March 20th, 2015
Road Closures Help Amphibians Migrate to Vernal Pools to Breed

Conserve Wildlife Foundation is excited to celebrate Amphibian Awareness Month during March 2015! Follow us on social media and be sure to check your email (sign up for our list) for weekly stories on the amphibians of the Garden State and our work to protect them. 

By: Lindsay McNamara, Communications Coordinator

Yellow Spotted Salamander © Lindsay McNamara

Yellow Spotted Salamander © Lindsay McNamara

 

On the night of March 14, Conserve Wildlife Foundation Communications Coordinator Lindsay McNamara attended the first closure of Beekman Road this season. Beekman Road, in East Brunswick, New Jersey, is closed to traffic about two or three nights for six to twelve hours each spring by Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission (Friends of EBEC). Friends of EBEC organizes these road closures to maintain local biodiversity.

 

In the woods on either side of Beekman Road, vernal pool habitat exists. Vernal pools are temporary woodland ponds that fill with water during the winter and spring and dry out in the summer. These vernal pools are extremely important for a number of amphibians in the area. Spotted salamanders, wood frogs, green frogs, spring peepers, Fowlers toads and chorus frogs all rely on the vernal pools for breeding.

 

Some amphibians, like spotted salamanders and wood frogs are entirely dependent on the vernal pools for breeding. They leave their winter hibernation spots in upland forests and migrate (often in large groups) to the vernal pools. Research suggests that these species follow the same migratory paths each year, often traveling distances of as much as 1,000 feet from their hibernation spots.

 

At the vernal pool, mating occurs, eggs are deposited by the females, and the adults leave the habitat and venture to the surrounding woods. The adults spend their summer in these wooded areas before slowly retreating back to their winter hibernation areas, and the natural cycle begins again.

 

Unfortunately, the migrating amphibians need to cross Beekman Road to get from their hibernating spots to their vernal pool breeding grounds. Road kills during this journey significantly reduce salamander and frog populations and can lead to local extinctions at breeding ponds.

 

Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission has worked together with a number of partners to close Beekman Road to traffic during nights when amphibian migration is extremely likely. These road closures help protect migrating salamanders and frogs as they move across Beekman Road to their breeding vernal pools.

 

Friends of EBEC consider a number of variables before they decided to close the road. A wide range of factors trigger salamander migration including the amount and timing of rainfall, the date, the temperature of the air, the temperature of the ground, the availability of open water on the vernal pools, the depth the salamanders are migrating, soil moisture and many others. Interestingly, studies have shown that males typically migrate first and arrive at the vernal pools before the females. It seems females need a higher average air temperature to stimulate their movement than the males.

 

Volunteers are encouraged to come on these rainy nights to help the amphibians cross the road. Bring your friends, your family and don’t forget a flashlight, to the next road closure of the season! Updates are posted on the Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission’s blog.

 

These road closures are a great way to protect local biodiversity and educate New Jersey residents about wildlife in their state. Conserve Wildlife Foundation, in partnership with the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program, lead a number of Amphibian Crossing volunteer programs across New Jersey. Join us!

 

Learn more:

 

Lindsay McNamara is the Communications Coordinator for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

Morning After Migration

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

POST #1 ON THE 2013 AMPHIBIAN MIGRATION

by MacKenzie Hall, Amphibian Crossing Project Coordinator

This small vernal pool in Hopewell is ready for things to start hoppin'.

This small vernal pool in Hopewell is ready for things to start hoppin’.

For the 98 volunteers signed on to help with this year’s amphibian road-crossing efforts, yesterday brought on the first flurry of excitement.  Forty degrees!  The promise of nighttime rain!  Saturday’s soaker had helped to get the ground thawing, though many of the amphibians’ breeding pools were still capped in ice.  The conditions weren’t going to be perfect, but surely some eager salamanders would be enticed to come out from their winter burrows and set off on migration.  And when their tiny feet hit the pavement of peril, we were gonna be there gosh dernit!

So our “scouts” got ready for night (and rain) to fall, to go check on a dozen or so road-crossing hot-spots in northern and central NJ.  Then, as volunteer Phil Wooldridge of Warren County put it, we experienced a little deja-vu.  The rain started later, the temperature was colder.  North of Route 80, snow and sleet fell instead.  We amphibian crossers have gotten used to the shakiness of weather forecasts, and to the somewhat complex combination of triggers that set an amphibian migration in motion.  At any rate, we basically got skunked last night.

The only sign of life came from Hampton, in Sussex County, where Sharon and Wade Wander found a single Jefferson salamander crossing the road to his ice-covered breeding pool.  Tough little salamanders, those Jeffs.  Our first one of 2012 came out during a wet snowfall, too, around 2:00 am on February 24th. 

The town of East Brunswick was also counting on last night’s forecast when they decided to close Beekman Road – a town road bisecting an amphibian migration path.  The town’s Environmental Commission has coordinated the closure for the past 10 years to protect the spotted salamanders, wood frogs, and other migrants on 4 to 10 nights every spring (read about it here).  Even there, only one male spotted salamander was seen making his way to the pool.

So, we’ll keep doing our best to predict the amphibian migration and to be in the right places when it happens.  Clearly the big long nights are still in front of us.

To learn more about our Amphibian Crossing Project and experience the migration through video, please visit our “Amphibians Crossing!” webpage.

Salamanders and…Seattle?

Thursday, September 8th, 2011
FINDING ANSWERS TO NJ PROBLEMS AT ICOET

By MacKenzie Hall, Private Lands Biologist

Seattle Space Needle

The iconic Space Needle, photographed from the edge of Puget Sound.

Last week – literally moments before Irene began her Garden State smack-down – my plane landed on home ground.  I was returning from six days in Seattle, WA, where more than 550 professionals from 21 countries gathered for the International Conference on Ecology & Transportation (ICOET).  The conference offered over 170 combined talks and posters on a variety of research, planning, ecology, and engineering topics that, by and large, had to do with animals crossing roads.

The reason I made the trip was our Amphibian Crossing project (ok, and it was also Seattle, birthplace of the counter-culture that fashioned my grungy teenagehood!).  Over the last decade we’ve surveyed, mapped, and prioritized hotspots throughout the northern half of NJ where frogs and salamanders have to travel across roads to reach their breeding pools each spring.  Enormous numbers are killed in doing so.  The hallmark of our Amphibian Crossing project has always been the volunteer-based rescue surveys – at night, in the rain, in traffic; requiring a lot of hands and a maniacal level of commitment to plan and carry out year after year.  At this point, we’ve got around 35 “high” and “highest” priority crossings…far too many to manually protect in the short-term, not to mention the long-term.  Our long-term solution is to get special under-road culverts installed for these migrating amphibians, and ICOET was a place I could find folks who have done it. (more…)

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