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LONG-TOED SALAMANDER (Ambystoma macrodactylm)

"The long-toed salamander is one representative of WLNP's biological diversity. The conservation of single species must be considered in the broader context of preservation. Ultimately, the value placed on life forms and the desire to preserve them lie in inherent values. Amphibians and reptiles (herpetofauna) have generally received far less attention than other forms of wildlife. In part, the inconspicuous behaviour of the herpetofauna contributes to the lack of awareness and interest, but the often negative perception of amphibians and reptiles has also led to misconceptions and a lack of appreciation for these organisms. Effective conservation incorporates the protection of all species, and concerted efforts must be made to improve awareness and understanding of less recognized wildlife." (Fokomoto, 1995; pg. 1)

The drama of the long-toed salamander began in Waterton Lakes National Park when modifications were made to the road running by the information centre. Due to their small size (10 to 17 cm./ 4 to 7 in.) and nocturnal, burrowing behaviour, salamander populations often go undetected. Indeed, a large population of salamanders was only discovered in Waterton when their migration to and from Linnet Lake was interrupted by the construction of new curbs and sidewalks along the road. In the fall of 1991 a park's employee discovered several salamanders having difficulty climbing the steep curbs, backing large numbers up on the road. In 1992 many community volunteers turned up for about a week in April, on cool rainy nights, to manually lift over 2,000 salamanders over the curb.

This discovery led to testing and monitoring of several alternatives by the warden service. In the end, the curbs were replaced with rough, sloping, "salamander-friendly" curbs and modifications to water drainage. Salamanders now cross the road with a minimal amount of difficulty. The incident emphasised the need for a study of park salamander populations. Julie M. Fukumoto of the University of Calgary agreed to conducted a two-year study as part of her Master's Degree.

Julie found scattered isolated populations of long-toed salamanders within WLNP, similar to study findings elsewhere in the province where the species were listed as threatened. Some reasons identified for the scattered, cut off populations of salamanders were -

  • roadway mortality (long-toed salamanders require both water and land habitats many of which are intersected by roads);
  • loss or alteration of habitat;
  • past fish stocking practices (in lakes were fish historically never existed, stocked fish eat many salamanders and their eggs); and,
  • global effects (amphibians are declining worldwide perhaps due to the thinning of the ozone and acidic precipitation).

    In WLNP, key issues identified for future impacts on salamanders were -

  • winter salting of park roads upsetting water chemistry, which in turn effects aquatic life;
  • occasional chlorine release from the Prince of Wales hotel water tower affecting water quality in Linnet lake; and,
  • an increase in traffic during shoulder seasons which may increase salamander mortality.

"...parks and other protected areas offer the best prospect of preserving biodiversity, as human encroachment continues to impose its effects on habitat and organisms. The parks also play a major role in increasing awareness and appreciation for biodiversity, including recognition of lesser known species such as the long-toed salamander." (Fokomoto, 1995; pg. 73)

The key to the survival of all flora (plants) and fauna (animals) will be sound management and creative alternatives to reduce human impact on the natural world. As Parks Canada explores these possibilities, their findings may be implemented to protect biodiversity outside of park boundaries as well.