Project Title: Blanding’s Turtles at Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge

Faculty Sponsor: Teresa Yoder-Nowak

Department: Biology

Telephone: 810.762.3360


Project Description: In recent years, concerns on global amphibian (frogs, toads and salamanders) declines have increased. In 2004, the Global Amphibian Assessment published a review about the declines which indicated that 39% of amphibians in the New World (North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean) are threatened or extinct and 46% of these are salamanders. Monitoring salamander populations is particularly important because they are often used as indicators of environmental health and biodiversity because of their small size, limited home ranges, wide geographic range and their sensitivity to microhabitat changes.

Previous work indicates an interaction between two terrestrial salamander species, Red-backed Salamanders and Northern Dusky Salamanders. This study will continue to look at this interaction by focusing on population size estimates, growth rates, habitat use patterns, movements and habitat selection patterns. This study will provide additional information on the only population of Northern Dusky Salamanders in the state of Michigan. This additional information will be provided to Wildlife Managers at the state level to aid in proper management of this species.

The purpose of this project is to further investigate the ecological interactions of Northern Dusky Salamanders and Red-backed Salamanders in Michigan by uniquely marking individuals with visual implant elastomer (VIE), a fluorescent, elastic subcutaneous injection. The specific objectives of the project are to determine the following:

  1. Patterns of territoriality for Northern Dusky Salamanders and Red-backed Salamanders
  2. Observed interactions between the species result from direct (e.g., aggressive encounters) or indirect (e.g., chemical cues) interactions and how these interactions effect habitat selection of each species
  3. Population size estimates for each species at Murphy Lake State Game Area
  4. Growth rates for Northern Dusky Salamanders and Red-backed Salamanders at Murphy Lake State Game Area
  5. Movement patterns of selected individuals of each species
  6. Differences in behavior of selected individuals of Red-backed Salamanders in the presence of Northern Dusky Salamanders
  7. Differences in behavior of Red-backed Salamanders occupying Streamside habitats versus Forested habitats

Student Tasks & Responsibilities:  Conduct weekly or biweekly field work. Field work will involve checking artificial cover objects in established research sites, marking salamanders with elastomer, measuring salamanders and recording data. Students will be trained on how to use visual implant elastomer to mark salamanders. There is potential for experience in grant writing, data entry and analysis, preparation of oral or poster presentations for conference, and preparation of publications.

Minimum Student Qualifications: BIO 111, BIO 113, and BIO 327; preference will be given to students in the Wildlife Biology Program; Students must have the ability to work under typical field conditions during spring, summer and fall in Michigan; Students must be able to work well with others. Most studies will be completed as part of a team of researchers; Students should possess good organization skills and must be reliable.