Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘new jersey wildlife’

Raising Awareness for Amphibians

Thursday, May 16th, 2024

by Christine Healy, Wildlife Biologist

Supporters who follow Conserve Wildlife Foundation across our social media platforms may have noticed that our channels became a bit less feather-y and more froggy in early May. This “takeover” was not just an acknowledgment of frogs and salamanders resuming their activities after winter brumation; however, you can expect the greatest diversity in the evening chorus this month with all native species besides mid-Atlantic coast leopard and wood frogs regularly calling. Rather, our shift in theme was in support of two international campaigns, Salamander Saturday and Amphibian Week, which aim to raise awareness for the most globally threatened class of vertebrates. 

Infographic created for CWF’s Salamander Saturday Celebration

The Foundation for the Conservation of Salamanders (FCSal) began the Salamander Saturday initiative in 2015 and has annually encouraged other organizations around the world to help “Keep the World Slimy” through outreach events. This year, several zoos, nature centers, parks, museums, and even a brewery joined in the festivities by offering interactive exhibits, walks, crafts, and more for their patrons on May 4th. In addition to live activities, FCSal urges the use of #SalamanderSaturday on Facebook and Instagram to disseminate information far and wide. 

Nothing makes our Herp Team (L-R: Staff Intern Connor Zrinko, Wildlife Biologist Christine Healy, Senior Intern Nikki Griffiths) happier than the quonk of our gold medalist in the Gymnastics division, the Pine Barrens tree frog! 

While CWF’s work focuses on large-bodied mole salamanders, New Jerseyans are lucky enough to share the landscape with 16 species ranging from the tiny four-toed salamander (~2”) to the Eastern tiger salamander (~8”).  Of these, nine are currently being monitored as endangered, threatened, species of concern, or species of interest, largely due to habitat loss and fragmentation. While you may not see them often, salamanders do a lot for our planet. They play an important role in the food chain as both predator and prey, contribute to carbon sequestration, aerate the soil, and more. Salamanders are also fascinating creatures. Though they do not coexist peacefully within flames as myths and legends suggest, they do share something in common with embers in that they “glow”. Scientists have not cracked the code on why but have found that many species bio fluoresce under different wavelengths of light. The bright colors and patterns frequently featured on their skin can be indicative of toxins and they are experts in regeneration, which could hold clues for medical advancement. Check out the infographic we created for this year’s celebration. 

CWF’s Amphibi-Olympics opened with the recitation of our amphibian anthem by a Fowler’s Toad (we knew that scream would capture your attention) and the torch lighting by a legendary fire salamander. 

Amphibian Week was started by the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) in 2020 and spans the first full week of May each year (the 5th– 11th in 2024). Activities occur in virtual and live capacities but are inspired by a unique theme that is selected in advance by PARC. In recognition of the upcoming summer Olympics in Paris, this year’s concept was Extreme Athletes: Amphibian Edition. Daily prompts included an opening ceremony, a warm-up day, aquatic, gymnastic, and track & field “events”, awards, and a closing ceremony. 

The medalists from the Track & Field event take to the podium, with the spotted salamander taking bronze, the wood frog securing silver, and the spring peeper getting gold. 

CWF interns, Connor and Nikki, had fun getting creative with the theme and sharing all the knowledge and admiration that they have for frogs and salamanders with our followers on Facebook and Instagram during our Amphibi-Olympics. After an evaluation of the adaptations our native amphibians have evolved to excel at life in water, on land, and in the trees, the bullfrog, Pine Barrens tree frog, and spring peeper took home the gold in the aforementioned “sports”. To add to the fun (and to accurately represent our life in the field.

Exploring New Jersey’s Amphibian Migrations

Wednesday, March 27th, 2024

by Leah Wells, Wildlife Biologist

Wood Frogs

 On rainy spring evenings, have you ever encountered large numbers of salamanders and frogs crossing the road? Do you ever wonder where they came from and where they are going? New Jersey’s forests are home to a group of amphibians that breed in small, temporary wetlands called vernal pools. Within northern New Jersey, this group includes wood frogs, spotted salamanders, and Jefferson salamanders. 

These salamanders are elusive, often concealed under foliage, moss, or in burrows created by small creatures.  They belong to the Ambystomatidae family, earning the nickname “mole salamander” due to their subterranean tendencies. Feeding primarily at night on various invertebrates like earthworms and insects, they, along with wood frogs, play crucial roles in forest ecosystems as vital links in the food chain and are indicators of ecosystem health. Emerging from winter hibernation during rainy nights in late winter and early spring, they embark on journeys to vernal pools for mating and egg-laying, marking the onset of the amphibian migration. 

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Encouraging Development for Tiger Salamanders

Thursday, February 29th, 2024

By Christine Healy, Wildlife Biologist

Close up of an adult tiger salamander.

In today’s world, it’s pretty difficult to think of a species that scientists are not concerned about in the face of climate change. The reasons are many and diverse, but in a state where 42% of municipalities are considered “coastal”, it comes as no surprise that sea level rise (SLR) is a big threat here- both to people and wildlife. When the average person imagines which species are most likely to be impacted by SLR, it’s likely that beach nesters, including piping plovers, immediately come to mind. Afterall, they occupy the same environments that recreationalists are worried about losing. Valid point- but they are not the only ones. Eastern tiger salamanders, one of New Jersey’s rarest amphibians, also make the list. 

Like our other mole salamanders (spotted, blue-spotted, marbled, and Jefferson), Eastern tiger salamanders require access to temporary wetlands, called vernal pools, to successfully breed. The ephemeral nature of these water bodies is critical because it eliminates fish as potential egg predators and thus increases larval survival. While these salamanders spend much of the year in forested landscapes, adults return annually to their natal pools (in most cases) to reproduce. High fidelity to these sites can put these amphibians in danger if development occurs within their migration corridors or changes transpire within the pools themselves. 

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Staff Spotlight

Wednesday, January 24th, 2024

Emmy Casper, Wildlife Biologist

Emmy Casper, Wildlife Biologist

Emmy grew up on the Jersey Shore, where she developed a strong passion for coastal wildlife conservation. In 2020 she joined CWF as a beach-nesting bird technician and spent three seasons monitoring populations of piping plovers, American oystercatchers, and colonial bird species at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. During her third season, she served as the crew leader and helped lead the first official season of bird monitoring on Horseshoe Island. Since joining the full-time staff in 2022, Emmy has traded the Atlantic Coast for the Delaware Bayshore, where she manages CWF’s new American oystercatcher and salt marsh restoration projects. She holds a B.S. and an M.S. in Biology from Fordham University, where she conducted her thesis on the molecular analysis of shorebird diet during spring migration in Jamaica Bay.

What’s your favorite species and why?

It’s almost impossible to choose, but piping plovers are so special to me. They jump-started my career in conservation, and their resilience in the face of many challenges inspires me to persevere in my own life.

What’s the most surprising or unusual thing that has happened to you while doing field work?

I was pretty flabbergasted when a piping plover pair laid a seven-egg nest during my first field season at Holgate. The pair’s original four-egg nest had been flooded, so we re-assembled it with the hope that the birds would resume incubating the eggs. Instead, the pair decided to lay three new eggs in the same nest! Unfortunately, the eggs were depredated before they could hatch, but I think a brood with 7+ chicks would have been a sight to behold.

Proof of the 7-egger plover nest
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New Jersey’s Beach Nesting Birds Struggle in 2023

Monday, December 11th, 2023

by Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist

This year was an especially challenging one for beach nesting birds in New Jersey. Most of the species fared poorly on a statewide basis, and even though they can withstand periodic down years, several trends are worrisome to biologists and wildlife managers.

The state’s piping plover breeding population remained the same as last year with 118 pairs, which is also about the same as the long-term average since federal listing. However, productivity was just 0.53 chicks fledged per pair, the second lowest since federal listing and well below the levels believed necessary to grow the population. Of particular concern, productivity has been low for three consecutive years after a number of years of above average success. Productivity is one of the main drivers of population (up or down) and small populations are especially sensitive to even small changes, so it is expected that the population is likely to drop over the next few years, further stagnating plover recovery in the state.

Meanwhile, there was a record number (53) of breeding pairs of piping plovers at Holgate, a unit of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, that is monitored by CWF through a cooperative agreement with the Refuge. This positive trend, almost a four-fold increase has occurred since Superstorm Sandy enhanced the habitat for plovers at the site, has been an ongoing highlight for the state in recent years. Nonetheless, it has not been accompanied by similar increases elsewhere in the state, so it has not led to any statewide recovery. Productivity for the large concentration of piping plovers at Holgate was above the statewide average in 2023 but the lowest level over the past decade, so it was also a down year for this site, where expectations typically run high that it will help boost statewide productivity.

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