Salamanders in the southern Appalachians appear to be changing their body size and getting smaller in response to global warming, according to a new study.
In response to climate change some animals move habitats, others adapt their physiology or behavior. Or they can fail to do either, which might lead to extirpation or extinction. Amphibians are considered particularly vulnerable to environmental changes because of their need for moisture and because they are cold-blooded.
Salamanders are typically characterized by a superficially lizard-like appearance, with slender bodies, blunt snouts, short limbs projecting at right angles to the body, and the presence of a tail in both larva and adult.
To see what is happening, National Geographic reports, researchers have studied Woodland salamanders in the genus Plethodon. To examine this, scientists collected representatives of a couple hundred populations of Appalachian woodland salamanders found at 85 sites in the mountains. The researchers then compared the sizes of these salamanders to museum specimens collected in the same regions from 1950 to 1996.
The findings have shown that over a period of 55 years, adult salamanders shrunk by 8 percent on average. The scientists have concluded that the change in body size was associated with change in the salamanders’ environment. In places where it got hotter and drier, salamanders shrunk more. Those areas tended to be in the southern Appalachians.
Whilst the scientists have made a link to climate change, there is no direct link. The shrinking could be related to another factor.
The research was carried out by University of Maryland, College Park and published in the journal Global Change Biology. The research is titled “Widespread rapid reductions in body size of adult salamanders in response to climate change”.