Monitoring for salamanders

Photo: Rhiannon Moore

Member Profile: Species at Risk at the rare Charitable Research Reserve

How long have you been around, and who helps run your land trust?

Founded in 2001, the rare Charitable Research Reserve is a 900+acre land reserve situated at the confluence of the Grand and Speed Rivers. The reserve is not only a beautiful and culturally significant landscape, but includes trees more than 240 years old and provides a diversity of habitats that supports rich biodiversity. This pristine landscape is home to an incredible array of flora and fauna, some of which are ranked significant regionally, provincially, nationally, even globally.

Larger than Central Park in New York, but found in the heart of Waterloo Region,  rare stewards this magnificent natural jewel striving to preserve the land for future generations by focusing on conservation, ecological restoration, research and education while also providing wonderful passive recreation opportunities to the surrounding community.

What is a project or program that you are especially proud of, and you would like people to know about?

The Jefferson Salamander is one of the many Species at Risk that make their home on rare’s properties. It is a small amphibian, 20 cm long, greyish in colour, with blue flecks along their sides. What we know is that there aren’t very many populations left. They face significant threats from habitat loss and degradation as well as road mortality, making it important to protect the habitat that remains.

Based on past inventories and ongoing monitoring and an increase in development around the rare property, we started to investigate whether a population of the Jefferson Salamander resides at rare. Jefferson Salamanders breed with another local species, the Blue-Spotted Salamander, making proper identification possible only through genetic testing. Salamanders live underground for much of the year, and when they are above ground, they are often hidden under leaf litter on the forest floor. In the spring they travel to vernal pools from their over-wintering habitat, to lay their eggs. Salamanders, like frogs, have a larval life stage that is entirely aquatic.

Salamander in trap

Photo: Jenna Quinn

Beginning in 2006, rare has been conducting an annual monitoring program and this year, the permits and resources came together to gather genetic samples by taking tail clippings. Staff members located the salamanders by setting minnow traps to catch adult salamanders on their way into the ponds where they breed on warm rainy spring evenings.

Jefferson Salamander populations have a unique reproductive strategy called gynogenesis and together with Blue-Spotted Salamanders, are referred to as the A.laterale (Blue-Spotted)- jeffersoniamum complex. It’s a complex and unusual system, and one of the reasons they are worth protecting and studying.

Taking samples from salamanders

Photo: Jenna Quinn

What is on the horizon for rare Charitable Research Reserve?

We recently completed our Strategy and Plans for the next five years and are working towards becoming a premier environmental institute with international academic expertise, which at the same time is true to its grassroots heritage. This includes operating as fiscally responsible regional land trust and the potential for increased land securement in Waterloo Region with a strong focus on research and training the next generation of conservationists.

We also launched the “Turn the Map Green” campaign to finish paying for the lands we already secured. Learn more at raresites.org or turnthemapgreen.ca!