Amphibians, Reptiles, & Fish
California kingsnake (Lampropelis getulus) is found at low elevations in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Amphibians, reptiles, and fish are found at all elevations within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Many species can only be observed seasonally while others may be found at all times of the year. Their occurrence ranges from common (e.g. western fence lizards) to extirpated (locally extinct) (e.g. foothill yellow-legged frogs). The parks also have numerous non-native species such as the bullfrog and many species of fish, which were brought into naturally fishless high elevation lakes and streams to make the area more attractive to anglers.
The introduction of fish has had many unintended effects - the most dramatic being the resulting decline in mountain yellow-legged frog populations due to predation of frogs and tadpoles and the insects they feed on. Although once lumped together as a single species, mountain yellow-legged frogs
have been split into the southern mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana muscosa) and the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog (Rana sierra). Both species occur within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and have disappeared from most of their native range. Although the introduction of trout into frog habitat is still considered a major cause of historic and current declines, the recent epidemic of amphibian chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) has resulted in a another wave of population crashes, and appears to be the primary threat to the remaining populations of frogs occupying fishless habitat.
The California newt (Taricha torosa) is a colorful amphibian that occurs up to 6500 feet in elevation in the Sierra Nevada.
In order to monitor the density, distribution, and species composition of native fish, counts are occasionally conducted along set transects. The results of this project have informed park managers about the quality of native fisheries and also the extent to which non-native fish have become established in low and middle elevation streams.
Transects of western pond turtles in low elevation rivers and streams are another important monitoring project. Recent research using turtles as a sentinel species to study the effects of air pollution found elevated blood mercury concentrations and altered physiology that is likely from exposure to small concentrations of pesticides.
Turtles in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks may also play this role to monitor the effects of climate change as they are the only known vertebrate in the parks where gender is determined by nesting temperatures. Thus, warmer nest temperatures would lead to a female biased population. For these reasons, the parks could assess foothill condition through this monitoring project to understand population trends, biological condition, age structure, and operating sex ratios.
Many species of amphibians are of limited distribution and thus vulnerable to disturbance. One group of salamanders of concern is the slender salamanders, in the Genus Batrachoseps. As a result of field inventory work in the parks and more advanced methods for distinguishing species, research scientists have recently determined that three species inhabit the park, including the Sequoia slender salamander (Batrachoseps kawia), Kings River slender salamander (Batrachoseps regius), and gregarious slender salamander (Batrachospes gregarius). Inventory and monitoring are important activities to document changes in animal populations, and inform research projects that aim to determine causes for population declines.