Ft. Stewart/Altamaha Longleaf Partnership - Supporting Flatwoods Salamander Conservation

June 08, 2015 Cingulatum Ft Stewart 2015 Image 2 Thumb

By John Jensen, Georgia Department of Natural Resources

Rich in salamander diversity with 57 currently recognized species; Georgia is a destination state for amphibian enthusiasts.  Six such enthusiasts, biologists representing Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, U.S. Department of Defense, Savannah River Ecology Lab, and Atlanta Botanical Garden, met at Ft. Stewart in early April to search for arguably the most imperiled salamander in the Southeast, the flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum).  The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed this species under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1999 due to drastically declining populations.  This species is found in low, mesic longleaf pine-wiregrass habitats with embedded, seasonal cypress ponds which they use for breeding, egg deposition, and larval growth.  Both the terrestrial flatwoods and the breeding ponds are fire-dependent and quickly degrade into unsuitable habitat when fire is excluded or infrequently applied.  The loss of fire on the landscape, as well the conversion of longleaf flatwoods to agriculture, high intensity silviculture, and other uses are the major causes implicated in the decline of flatwoods salamanders.  With thousands of suitable habitat acres and a robust prescribed fire program, Ft. Stewart provides the best remaining conditions for this species in Georgia.  

Even so, the once fairly widespread population on the installation has been reduced to only one (known) productive breeding pond, and finding larvae in this pond has not been annually reliable lately.  Precipitous range-wide declines of this species have triggered desperate actions in an effort to save flatwoods salamanders from extinction.  Twenty flatwoods salamander larvae were captured during this April’s search, four of which were collected and transported to Atlanta Botanical Garden where they will be raised, hopefully, to adulthood and become the founder stock for a captive breeding program that ideally will allow the species to be returned to extirpated sites where habitat has been restored. 

Image 1:  Survey team that located and captured flatwoods salamanders at Ft. Stewart.  Photo by Kurt Buhlmann.

 

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