Frosted Flatwoods Salamander

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Frosted Flatwoods Salamander

Ambystoma cingulatum


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The frosted flatwoods salamander is associated with the longleaf pine flatwoods that once extended across much of the Southeastern U.S. Today, due largely to habitat loss, their range within Florida has been reduced primarily to Apalachicola National Forest and St. Marks NWR. Because of this reduction in numbers from loss of habitat, the frosted flatwoods salamander is listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Within the pine flatwoods, salamanders require both upland and wetland habitat to complete their life cycle. In the fall, adults emerge from upland burrows to mate. Females lay a small clutch of eggs under vegetation in dry pond basins that then fill in the winter rains. Gilled larvae hatch into the water where they develop until spring when the ponds dry back down. Just like a tadpole, they undergo metamorphosis, absorbing their gills and growing legs to prepare for life on land. When they move to the uplands, they will find a burrow of their own to stay in until the following season. 

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St. Marks NWR collaborates with the U.S. Geological Survey to improve the status of the frosted flatwoods salamander. One way is by conducting occupancy sampling, which provides insight into which ponds on the refuge are currently occupied by salamanders, as well as information on what other animals—including salamander predators, prey, and competitors—live in these ponds.

Research

The Refuge and USGS conduct more intensive research at a few ponds that show consistent salamander activity. Adult salamanders are caught at the pond edge along drift fences, and individually marked so that if they are caught again, it is known when and where they have been caught before. The goal of this project is to learn the specific timing of when adults return to the ponds to breed, when the new metamorphs emerge onto land, and to better understand the external conditions that trigger these movements. This information helps inform decisions about habitat management to benefit the salamanders. 

Conservation

 salamander-4-smHeadstarting is a project that works directly to improve salamander success at the refuge. Larval salamanders are kept in captivity until they reach metamorphosis and then returned to their original ponds. This ensures more salamanders survive to adulthood than would otherwise, and bolsters the population of this threatened species.

Management

The biological team members on the refuge are not the only personnel to help with the frosted flatwoods salamander efforts. The fire crew works diligently to plan prescribed burns that help prevent overgrown shrubs from encroaching on the seasonal ponds that the salamanders depend upon. Without regular burning, wetland plants and grasses aren’t able to compete with the hardy shrubs, the entire composition of the pond basin changes, and often becomes unsuitable for salamanders to use at all.