Conservation in Front Royale

During the summer of 2013 I took a Conservation 100 class at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation in Front Royal, VA. This was my first experience with anything related to conservation, and I believe that is what really got me interested in sustainability and conservation. These two things go hand in hand because I think that in order to ensure that there is an abundance of resources and biodiversity for the future we must protect what we have now and use it wisely.

While I was taking the Conservation 100 class each student had the opportunity to choose a mentor the worked in a specific field of study. I chose to work with the herpetology specialist because I have always been interested in reptiles and amphibians. Each day we would go out into the woods with our mentor to get hands on experience learning about the local reptile and amphibian species. One of the days our mentor showed us how they track the box turtle populations in the area; when they found new turtles they would attach a radio signal to their shell, that did not hurt the animal in any way, then release it. She then showed us how to use the antenna to track the signal on a specific turtle. It took a lot of wandering in the woods listening to faint beeping, but we finally found the turtle we were looking for. We made sure it was in good health, then released it again. On a couple other days we walked along some small creeks turning over rocks to find different salamander species. We ended up finding three different species local to the region. Our mentor told us that the Shenandoah salamander, which we did not find, is an endangered species that only lives on a few mountain tops in the Shenandoah Mountains. They look almost identical to the Eastern Red-Backed salamander, which we did find, but the two species compete for the same food and living space. The Shenandoah salamander can only live above a certain altitude, unlike the Eastern Red-Backed, so there is no way for them to avoid the rough competition. I was also made aware that water pollution is also a huge problem for this endangered species because their skin absorbs whatever is in the water. This is also a problem for all amphibians around the world today. I learned so much about local reptile and amphibian species and how they are being affected by changes that are going on. Taking that class and learning from my mentor is what makes me want to learn even more about sustainability and conserving animal species around the world.

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One comment

  1. mackenziearl · October 6, 2015

    This sounds like an amazing experience to jump-start your interests in sustainability! It is amazing how much of a species difference can be found in such a small region. I read an article recently that discussed the sheer biodiversity found in Virginia. Apparently herpetology specialists from all over the world come to Virginia to study amphibian and reptile species because the field conditions are far more compatible to successful collections than the varying environmental factors of rain forest locations. Were you able to study the exact factors that affected the Shenandoah Salamander? Chances are run-off or other indirect human contact was the cause, but I find it the most fascinating when an ecological imbalance is the cause of a niche conflict. I have heard some species that are similarly vulnerable to water contamination can even be affected by a change in oxygen levels or temperature triggered by an algae bloom. It is amazing how, despite millions of years of evolution, our most important species can be so vulnerable to the slightest environmental changes.

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