Oct 11 2016

Amphibians at Idell Preserve Provide
Proof of Thriving Ecosystem

salamanderDo you hear a chorus of chirping in the evenings?

If you live near wetlands, you may not be hearing crickets – frogs chirp too! Wet, marshy forest areas like the Hunterdon Land Trust’s Idell Preserve make great habitat for amphibians like frogs and salamanders, which play many important roles in the ecosystem.

In addition to helping keep the water clean, amphibians are a source of food for other animals like turtles, owls, raccoons, and foxes, and they also help keep the mosquito population down by eating mosquito larvae before they have a chance to mature into pesky, biting adults.

Amphibians also play an important role in conservation by serving as indicators of environmental health. Most are very sensitive to changes in their environment, such as fluctuations in rainfall or temperature due to changing conditions.

Many frogs and salamanders also have permeable skin, which means that any pollution in their environment gets absorbed directly into their bodies. Because amphibians are so heavily affected by environmental conditions, when there are many amphibians present in an ecosystem we can tell that that ecosystem is relatively healthy.

Many amphibians’ life cycles take place both on land and in water. One special kind of ecosystem where land and water meet is called a vernal pool. Vernal pools are small ponds that are filled with water for at least two months out of the year, but seasonally dry up. Because they are periodically dry, they cannot contain fish that would otherwise prey on amphibian eggs, making vernal pools vital amphibian habitat.

frog-at-dvoor-004Each year around springtime when the snow begins to melt, frogs and salamanders migrate to vernal pools to breed. For some species, the breeding season lasts as little as 2-3 days. However, since the pools only hold water for a limited time, newly hatched amphibians must rush to complete their metamorphosis before the pools dry up. Many amphibians will return each year to breed in the same pond where they were born; however, if their pond is destroyed they may no longer breed at all.

In New Jersey, there are two species of frogs and five species of salamanders that can only breed in vernal pools. Among them are the Eastern Tiger Salamander and the Blue-spotted Salamander, which are both endangered. Many other species do not rely on the pools as their only place to breed, but nonetheless use the pools for breeding, habitat, or feeding. If vernal pools are destroyed, it’s a huge loss for the entire ecosystem.

Experts disagree on whether Hunterdon County is included in the range of the endangered Blue-spotted Salamander, but the Hunterdon Land Trust’s Idell Preserve hosts habitat potentially suitable for them, including the vernal pools they rely on for breeding. Come explore the pools along the trails at Idell – you never know what you may find!

— By Stefani Spence, HLT Land Steward

If You Visit….

The 57-acre Idell Preserve features old growth trees, pine forests and vernal pools. Enjoy a pleasant hike on its .8-mile trail, and don’t forget to take along your smartphone or iPad and share your discoveries on the HLT Community Map (www.hltcommunitymap.com). Idell Preserve is located on Barbertown-Idell Road in Kingwood, just past Tumble-Idell Road. Park by the Hunterdon Land Trust sign.

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