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Posts Tagged ‘herpetologist’

I used to love finding little red salamanders when I was a child.

I didn’t know they played an important role in the ecosystem, even balancing out processes that contribute to climate change. Of course, when I was a child, nobody talked about ecosystems or climate change. But I’m glad to learn salamanders are important. Small things often are.

Writes Richard Conniff in the NY Times, “According to a new study in the journal Ecosphere, salamanders play a significant role in the global carbon cycle. …

“The study — by Hartwell H. Welsh Jr., a herpetologist at the United States Forest Service’s research station in Arcata, Calif., and Michael L. Best, now at the College of the Redwoods in Eureka, Calif. — notes that salamanders’ prey consists almost entirely of ‘shredding invertebrates,’ bugs that spend their lives ripping leaves to little bits and eating them.

“Leaf litter from deciduous trees is on average 47.5 percent carbon, which tends to be released into the atmosphere, along with methane, when the shredding invertebrates shred and eat them.

“If there aren’t as many shredders at work and the leaves remain in place, uneaten, they are covered by other leaves. … The anaerobic environment under those layers preserves the carbon until it can be captured by the soil, a process called humification.

“At least in theory, having more salamanders in a forest should mean fewer shredding invertebrates and more carbon safely locked underground.”

Read how they tested their theory, here.

 Photo: Todd W. Pierson/University of Georgia

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