.By Jenna Quinn
I often find myself explaining my job to people. Family, friends, acquaintances - it is not uncommon for me to get a “and that is your job!?” response when I tell them about how I spent the day counting butterflies, walking trails, measuring trees, rescuing turtles, identifying salamanders, locating lady slippers, or any other highlight (I rarely talk about the office work…it just doesn’t measure up!). The most common question I get about the monitoring projects is why? Why should I care about salamanders? What do they do, how do they help, why do we monitor them?
Studying zoology at university, I struggled to understand how everyone in my life didn’t find everything I was learning as fascinating as I did. I’d bombard my family and friends with whatever animal trivia I learned that day and expect them to be just as awed and wowed as I was. When I get asked about why salamanders are important, I often feel like I did back then. “Because they are incredible, awesome, cool creatures!” I, like many others, see an intrinsic value in salamanders just because they exist. I want to watch them, learn about them, protect them. The truth is that everyone sees value in things in their own way and for some people salamanders just aren’t on the top of the list. And that’s okay! Luckily there are a lot of other reasons why we should all care about salamanders and keep them from going the way of the Dodo.
Salamanders are both a predator and a prey species, making them an essential link in the food chain in most forest ecosystems. They are ferocious predators of insects and arthropods making them a natural pest control. Some salamanders, like the Spotted Salamander, have larval forms that eat aquatic insects, helping to control pesky populations of mosquitoes by feeding on their larvae. Some larger salamander species (not found in Ontario) even eat small rodents!
Salamanders are, in turn, eaten by rodents, birds, and snakes. As the most common vertebrate species in most forests, they are an important and abundant food source to sustain other wildlife. By being efficient predators of insects and providing ample food for other species, salamanders play an important role in transferring energy up the food chain. They also help manage decomposition and nutrient cycling in the forest ecosystem by being active predators of invertebrates.
One of my favourite reasons to care about salamanders unsurprisingly tied back to monitoring. Lungless salamanders, like the abundant Eastern Red-backed Salamander, are excellent indicator species as they are highly sensitive to contaminants in their environment. They can be quick to respond to environmental stresses like pollution and can therefore be very informative!
Whether the sight of a salamander makes you feel squeamish or delighted, there are many great reasons to protect them. So, let’s ensure they can continue to play an important role in our ecosystems!
A Feast for Fish
By Raechel Bonomo
My favourite holiday memory is learning to make mashed potatoes in my grandma’s kitchen. Her hand gently clasping mine as I firmly squished down into a large yellow bowl using an old wooden-handled masher. I recall the way she recited the intricate family recipe. It is laced with table cream, a pinch of salt and the secret ingredient that has kept the mashed creation a must-have on our holiday table.
Learning how to make these potatoes felt like an initiation of sorts. It was one almost every female member of my family has gone through. No holiday meal is truly complete without this dish.
Carefully prepared meals are often a quintessential part of the holidays. More than that, food structures human lives into three parts: breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are copious articles telling us what we should and shouldn’t eat, the newest recipes to try and what foods to eat to lose weight.
But what if eating was as simple as consuming whatever happened to swim by?
Oh, to live like a fish.
Although our finned friends are as dependent on food as humans are, they’re not nearly as picky.
What a fish consumes boils down to their species, size and region. Larger fish, such as the anadromous salmon, tend to munch on smaller saltwater species like herring, who in turn opt for zooplankton and krill.
While other large freshwater fish such as trout will snack primarily on insects and smaller fish, sometimes what a fish eats is simply what it can fit in its mouth.
Largemouth Bass have been known to consume an interesting array of things, ranging from the typical crayfish to the odd small bird or two. This species is known to eat frogs, leeches, snakes and even small mammals.
Food availability and competition in an area also play a role in what a species may eat. Habitat degradation and pollution can negatively impact what’s on the menu. It often altering aquatic "food webs" by forcing species to opt for different food sources. With the introduction of invasive species such as Round Goby in many watersheds across Canada, sometimes getting a sufficient bite to eat is harder than simply chomping down on whatever floats a fish’s way.
Round Goby compete directly with other bottom-dwelling fish.,They not only eating similar prey but sometimes even preying on smaller fish, such as darters and logperch. By reducing the availability of food for native species, Round Goby over-populate areas by dwindling the numbers of species, including Northern Madtom and Eastern Sand Darter. Gobies will also intrude into the nests of native species and snack on their eggs. This prevents any offspring from hatching, impacting the life cycle of a native species and contributes to the decrease in population.
In the wake of the growing number of invasive species like the Round Goby, food has never been more important to native species. Fish need this sustenance for their development so they can reproduce, which helps keep populations of native species afloat.
Food plays an important part in every species’ life. From humans to fish, from a bowl of creamy mashed potatoes to a school of plankton. Food is the one thing we can all sink our teeth into.
Blogs are written by ELB members who want to share their stories about Ontario's biodiversity.