Herpetofauna of the Duke Forest Session 1 – Recap

by Barb Dietsch, Herpetofauna of the DUke Forest Volunteer Lead

Season 1 of the Duke Forest Citizen Science Herpetofauna Program has seen two significant species trends:

One trend is the abundant numbers of Red-Backed Salamander (Plethodon cinereus) of both color morphs, red-back and lead-back, found in March. A salamander of forested areas, the red-backed salamander can be found hiding beneath rocks, clumps of moss, and decaying logs where the substrate remains moist. The wooden coverboards provide just such a microhabitat. So far in our study, we saw 30 of the lead-backed morph and 24 of the red-backed morph for a total of 54 red-backed salamanders! I imagine if we had been sampling earlier in the spring with the cool, wet weather, we would have seen large numbers as well. Surface activity of lungless salamanders is highly dependent on the temperature and moisture of the forest floor. As this program in Duke Forest continues, it will be interesting to see when and under what conditions the fluctuations of this salamander occur, and to see if we can answer the question of why they are moving around in the spring. Are they foraging for food or for reproduction or both?

Chart of Herps found in Session 1

The other species trend that we saw this spring was the large numbers of Worm Snakes (Carphophis amoenus) beginning in April. This snake is most common in or adjacent to deciduous forests and is seldom seen above ground so it was interesting to see such abundant numbers under the coverboards. Since they are typically found in cool, moist microhabitats usually underground, the numbers found under the coverboards in Duke Forest might decline during the hot, dry summer. As we are to begin session 2 of the program in June, we will soon know. Worm snakes lay 1-8 eggs during early summer so I wonder if we will see young worm snakes in late summer or early fall or perhaps the hatchlings will remain underground until they are more fully grown. The data will tell us!! We should know this autumn after sampling the coverboards.

Session 1 of the Duke Forest Citizen Science Herpetofauna Program has been a great success! As this is the first year of comprehensive sampling and data collection, we have observed more species of reptiles and amphibians and increased numbers of the species we had previously seen. We have begun to see trends in population dynamics of these species. As the data is analyzed, more details on microhabitat type (wood vs. tin coverboards), forest type, weather, and seasonal conditions, will emerge. Session 2 will only increase the knowledge of the herpetofauna that live in Duke Forest and will have an impact on the conservation and management of the Forest.

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