How I help save sallies: Although salamanders have roamed the earth for ~180 million years, many species now face extinction risk because of the unprecedented combination of threats in our changing world. As a wildlife biologist who formerly studied human disease, I’m interested in how environmental changes affect disease risk in salamanders. Appalachian salamanders face multiple threats, including:
More frequent heatwaves and drought
Water pollution and siltation
How can we begin to address this laundry list of problems? To start, we look for ‘model’ species to study. Because hellbenders face all of the above threats and (unlike most salamanders) are large enough to take a blood sample from, they are a great model species. In the lab, I study how warm and variable temperatures influence hellbender health. In the wild, I measure stream quality and test hellbenders for disease. By conducting both lab and field-based studies, I try to shed light on how combinations of threats can impact wild salamanders. We can then use this information to develop strategies to protect these fascinating species.