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Posted 06.26.06

MU Researchers Urge Greater Protection Around Appalachian Streams

Study Finds that Stream Protection Alone is Not Enough to Maintain Ecosystems

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A recent study by University of Missouri-Columbia researchers found that developers, land managers and policymakers need to protect more land around Appalachian streams in order to maintain ecosystems.

Raymond Semlitsch.Raymond Semlitsch, MU professor of biology, and John Crawford, MU doctoral candidate, studied stream-breeding salamanders in the southern Appalachians to determine how much land they used. Various types of salamanders live in areas from northern Georgia to Maine and are important to the maintenance of their ecosystems because they act as biomass transporters, eating insects and worms and then being eaten themselves by snakes and birds. The abundance and diversity of salamanders also serve as indicators of the general health of an ecosystem.

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"Amphibians are a 'canary in the coal mine' of sorts," Crawford said. "They're typically the first animals in an ecosystem to experience population decline because they rely on both water and land habitats. If this happens, it's usually an indication that something is wrong in the ecosystem and will affect other animals, possibly even humans."

Crawford and Semlitsch found that the salamanders they studied used 27 to 42.6 meters of land on each side of a stream and required an additional 50 meters of buffer zone beyond that, totaling 92.6 meters of land for full protection. Current regulations by the U.S. Forest Service in the southern Appalachians require only 9 meters of buffer around streams.

"Salamanders don't just live in streams. They lay their eggs in streams and babies live in streams, but adult salamanders live on the land around streams," Semlitsch said. "It's not enough to protect the streams alone."

Semlitsch said that current regulations are aimed only at protecting streams and do not take into consideration the land used by salamanders and other organisms.

"Typically, when buffer zones are defined, they're based on criteria to protect the aquatic resources alone," Semlitsch said. "Measuring habitat needs and buffer zone widths for wildlife populations, as we've done in this study, is a critical first step to protecting organisms that live both in water and on land. We need to balance urban development, logging and farming so that we can also maintain a safe zone for these organisms."

Crawford and Semlitsch's study will be published in the journal Conservation Biology later this year.



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