Southern Appalachia is the salamander capital of the world, with more species and families of salamanders than anywhere else on the planet.
They also provide essential services for us and our planet. Salamanders eat mostly invertebrates like flies and beetles, which survive on leaves, and the more leaves left unconsumed means less carbon released into the atmosphere. At common densities, salamanders help sequester enough carbon in the soil to affect global climate.
What does this mean for us? Without salamanders there would be more uncontrolled carbon production. Our already frightening increase in global climate would become worse.
The salamander population in Appalachia has the highest phylogenetic diversity. The largest salamander family in the world– the Plethodontidae, or lungless salamanders – likely evolved and diversified in the Appalachians. They account for about 66 percent of all salamander species. With such a massive and diverse salamander population right here in our backyard, it’s essential that we protect them and our ecosystem.
We have salamanders in every aquatic and forested ecosystem in the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest, including several rare and threatened species. They are especially affected by logging. Studies suggest that salamander populations can take up to 100 years to recover from a clearcut or heavily logged site.
Salamanders are also negatively affected by roads. Several studies have shown how salamander diversity and abundance decline near Forest Service roads.
The spruce-fir forest is a particularly fragile environment, susceptible to effects of climate change. The spruce-fir forest is also home to the very rare Weller’s salamander. As temperatures rise, these cold-loving forests and salamanders retreat farther up the mountains and eventually may run out of habitat. Lungless salamanders, in particular, are in danger because they breathe through their skin. As their environment is destroyed, polluted, and/ or warms up, they retreat to healthy, cooler water.
Here’s the good news: what’s good for salamanders is also good for us. Salamanders need clean water and healthy, intact forests. Salamanders depend especially on the old-growth forests and pristine watersheds of the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest. All 36 areas in the I HEART PISGAH coalition’s priority protection list contain salamanders, several of which are only found here and nowhere else on the planet. It’s critical the upcoming Forest Plan protect all 36 areas. The mascot of the mountains and the symbol of Southern Appalachia—the salamander—depends on the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest and the decisions being made this year.