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Toads Attest to Habitat Health
Brandyn Shipley ’18 (The Wildlife Society) recently presented her original research on the link between healthy amphibians and habitat quality at the 25th annual national conference for The Wildlife Society. One in three Capital University undergraduates conducts research with their professor. Shipley’s work was conducted at Capital’s field research site the Primmer Outdoor Learning Center and other sites, and pulls together research collected with the help of several student volunteers over multiple semesters at Capital.
Shipley currently works at PTS Diagnostics as a Quality Control Technician in a lab, where she inspects test strips used to measure levels of analytes in the blood related to heart disease and diabetes, including lipid panels and glucose. In the next year, she plans to apply for graduate school for conservation and wildlife biology with the goals of becoming research scientist focused on endangered species and the decline of their populations related to habitat loss and disease.
Amphibians including toads, salamanders, tree frogs, and true frogs, are often times considered the connection between aquatic and terrestrial habitats in the landscape as a multitude of these species utilize both types of habitats (Sparling et al.). Amphibians in general rely on water for survival and are found in a wide range of habitats including wetlands, streams, vernal pools, rivers, ponds, lakes, and moist woodlands in Ohio. The most influential threat to salamander populations is habitat loss and degradation caused by humans (Pfingsten et al. 1989).
Biodiversity of the amphibian community can serve as a bioindicator of ecosystem health (Sparling et al. 2001). Specifically, the assessment is based on the relative abundance of sensitive species, relative abundance of tolerant species, and other scores including the overall number of species (Micacchion 2011). Amphibians are sensitive to stressors in the environments they reside in due to their physiological dependence of their habitats, and therefore can be utilized as bioindicators (Pearce & Venier 2009) and (Welsh et al. 1998). They depend on their habitats for food resources, high moisture levels to avoid desiccation, cutaneous respiration, and the regulation of their body temperatures. Because of this, their presence and distribution indicate the quality of a habitat (Pearce & Venier 2009).
Chytridiomycosis was first explained in 1998 and has continued to affect amphibians in North America, Central America, Europe, and Australia (Kilpatrick et al. 2010). Chytridiomycosis is caused by chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), and is believed to be the cause of recent amphibian decline worldwide (Xie et al. 2016). Bd infects amphibians through their skin, cause the skin to become thick, and therefore affects their supply of both oxygen and required salts. Due to this interaction, Bd impacts the way amphibians breathe and how their organs function (Xie et al. 2016) and (Chytrid Fungus, 2018).
The goal of this study was to survey frogs and salamanders to estimate the quality of habitats at Blacklick Woods Metro Park in urban Reynoldsburg, OH in central Ohio, and at Capital University’s Primmer Outdoor Learning Center in the Hocking Hills region of southeastern Ohio. Each amphibian species is given a coefficient of conservatism (C of C) which is a key to the level of sensitivity for each species. The amphibians of Ohio have a wide range of levels of sensitivity (Micacchion 2011). Calculating the AmphIBI using these sensitivities is an effective way of determining the quality of a wetland by using organisms as bioindicators (Micacchion 2011). A second goal of this study was to identify the presence of Bd using conventional nested Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and real time PCR in order to determine the number of individuals and species infected within a given field site. Analyzing the quality of habitats that amphibians reside in will allow a better understanding of how to conserve and protect species in central and southeastern Ohio.