Amphibian: Includes Frogs, toads, newts and salamanders. Amphibians are cold-blooded creatures, meaning they do not create their own body heat and are strongly affected by the temperature of their environment. Most Amphibians start their life in freshwater habitats and migrate to forests. They also breathe through their permeable skin, making them very sensitive to environmental toxins thus acting as important ecological indicators.
My friend Colleen and I met Dr. Barb Beasley on the side of the road, just as you enter Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. It was awesome to meet Barb--she is extremely knowledgeable and willing to share endless information about the changing ecology of the area, and how we as humans are impacting amphibians.
Amphibians are incredibly important creatures but are often overlooked or under appreciated because of their slimy appearance and elusive lifestyles. Their physical characteristics, including temperature and moisture sensitivity, and susceptibility to pollution allows them to act as the “canary in the coal mine” for many ecosystems such as wetlands and forests. A forest with a diversity and abundance of salamanders signals good health. Correspondingly, population declines are an important indication of environmental change such as temperature change or pollution.
The mission of the Association of Wetland Stewards of Clayquot and Barkley Sounds is to monitor amphibian populations and try to reduce mortality of these essential species. Colleen and I were meeting Barb to help her repair some amphibian fencing that has been installed along the road around a major amphibian crossing area. The fence is situated in such a way that channels the migrating critters safely through an underground culvert rather than across the busy highway where they would undoubtedly get hit by cars. The wildlife cameras installed by Barb and her team have caught not only amphibians using the culvert, but also small mammals and even a mother bear and her cubs!
Before we started repairing the fence, we hiked to a 4 ha breeding pond called Swan Lake to check water levels and monitor any amphibian activity. We found a red-legged frog and multiple tree frogs, which Barb explained, are becoming increasingly threatened not only from the changing environment but also the invasive American Bull Frog which preys on them. Luckily, the Bull Frog hasn’t seemed to have reached Swan Lake, which is also too shallow for fish—acting as a predator-free oasis for salamanders, frogs, and toads.
Because of this special amphibian oasis, it’s critical to protect such a significant population of native species. Barb and her team also perform SPLAT surveys (road mortality) as well as annual counts of egg masses to monitor population health of frogs and salamanders. It was really great to learn about all the work going into understanding and protecting these species while we were repairing the fence during the day. The great thing about volunteering is the amount you learn in a very short period of time! The recent success of the amphibian fence and ongoing monitoring of populations within the area has made me optimistic that these important creatures still have a fighting chance in this ever-changing world.
If you want to stay updated on the work of the Association of Wetland Stewards of Clayquot and Barkley Sounds, or want to support their work through donating, please visit their blog at http://splatfrogtunnel.blogspot.ca/