The red-backed salamander, an amphibian native to eastern woodlands, possesses an interesting behavioral quirk: those in older forests move significantly more than those in young forests. That’s one of the findings of a study completed this year by Assistant Professor of Biology Bradley Cosentino and Professor of Biology David Droney, summarized in an article in the November issue of the journal Animal Behaviour.
Working with student interns Shay Callahan ’17 and Maddie Balman ’16, Cosentino and Droney gathered the salamanders from forest stands in the Finger Lakes National Forest in Hector, N.Y. “Old” forest stands are those that were treed before the 1930s, when the forest’s land was purchased by the government; “young” forests were farmed during the same period, and only returned to their forested state at a later time. The researchers then observed the salamanders’ movements in lab-built observation arenas over a period of time.
Why the differences in behavior in similar populations of the same animal? “That’s what we’re following up on now,” says Cosentino. One hypothesis, he explains, has to do with the fact that the salamanders have no lungs, and must remain in moist areas for respiration. The smaller trees in newer forests may allow more sunlight to break through and dry the ground, making it more costly to move around compared to old forests.