The variation in the flow of streams induced by the climate crisis may threaten the survival of salamanders, according to a study.
The study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states that changes in the flow of rivers can kill salamanders while they are metamorphosing from larvae to adults.
A team led by professor Winsor Lowe of the University of Michigan in the US studied spring salamanders living in five New Hampshire streams, which, according to the researchers, go through fluctuating high and low flows brought on by the global climate crisis.
The researchers used a 20-year data set from Merrill Brook, New Hampshire which showed that an abundance of spring salamander adults declined by nearly 50 per cent since 1999.
However, the data set had no trends on larval abundance. The scientists checked whether stream flow variability at Merrill Brook and other nearby streams affected salamanders transforming from larvae to adults.
They found that fewer salamanders survived development to adults during years when the variation in stream flow was high.
“We feel this work is important because it expands our knowledge about the effects of climate change on a diverse group of species that are often overlooked because they spend most of their lives under rocks and logs in small, headwater streams,” Lowe said.
“Increasing environmental variability may be especially challenging for species that undergo metamorphosis―like many insects and amphibians―because that's a vulnerable period when they rely on stable environments for survival,” he added.
Lowe and his team suggest that people and policy makers should pay attention to environmental variability as it increases with climate change, and not just look at how average changes in temperature, rainfall impact wildlife and society.
“Small headwater streams are home to diverse species and the source of clean water to downstream communities, but these ecosystems are also easy to overlook and are losing protection under proposed Clean Water Act revisions,” Lowe said.
“Our work underscores the vulnerability of headwater ecosystems in this era of climate change, the need for protection of vulnerable headwater species, and the value of long-term monitoring efforts,” he emphasised.