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Norwood resident among students learning about salamander ecology

Catawba College students in Biology professor Joe Poston’s ecology class made an overnight trip recently to Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in Virginia to learn about salamander ecology. On the trip, students gathered data for two projects.

One project studies the change in salamander species with elevation. They sampled nocturnal salamanders at the summit of Whitetop Mountain, and then at several lower elevations to document each species’ preferred elevational distribution.

“This hands-on lab experience was incredible. Whitetop mountain’s views were breathtaking,” said Catawba student Libby Bickenbach of Norwood.

The other project explores salamanders’ use of stream-side habitats. During the daytime, Poston’s students searched a small stream and the surrounding woods for salamanders, identified species and recorded each salamander’s distance from water.

Contributed
Students discovered this Northern Gray-cheeked Salamander in Whitetop Mountain, Virginia.

“I’ve never been so excited to find salamanders in my life,” said Kara Cline of Salisbury. “It’s amazing how many there are, but if you’re not looking for them you will never see one.”

Poston explained, “The Southern Appalachian Mountains has the world’s highest diversity and abundance of salamander species in the world. The region is a wonderful natural laboratory of ecology. And students who may have never seen a salamander before quickly learn how to find them and identify them. It is gratifying to see students become so excited about salamander diversity and ecology.”

After the trip, senior biology major Jay Minter of Sanford added, “This was the most intriguing field trip I have been on while here at Catawba. I wish we could have stayed longer.”