Lesson Plan

Shenandoah Salamander: Climate Change Casualty or Survivor?

A group of children gather around in a circle as they look at a salamander
NPS Photo

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Subject:
Biology: Animals, Climate Change, Conservation, Ecology, Environment, Wildlife Biology, Wildlife Management
Duration:
Pre-visit lessons: 90 minutes; Park Field Trip: 2 hours on site in Shenandoah National Park; Post-visit lessons: 90 minutes
Group Size:
Up to 24 (4-8 breakout groups)
Setting:
outdoors
National/State Standards:
Virginia Life Science Standards of Learning: LS.11 and LS.13

Overview

The Shenandoah salamander is an endangered species found only on a few rocky slopes within Shenandoah National Park. Its survival is being threatened by changing climate and habitat competition from the more common red-backed salamander. Students will conduct field research on the red-backed salamander to compare the two salamander species’ habitat requirements and determine how climate change and habitat competition are impacting the survival of the Shenandoah and red-backed salamanders.

Objective(s)

Following the park experience and classroom activities, the students will be able to:

 

1. Define climate change and list examples of natural and human-influenced contributors to climate change.

 

2. Conduct a salamander population study to determine habitat preferences and environmental conditions in Shenandoah National Park.

 

3. Assess/predict the potential impact of climate change and species competition on the survival of the Shenandoah and red-backed salamanders.

 

4. Determine ways people can reduce contributions to climate change.

 

5. Create a persuasive media message to educate others on the impacts of climate change and ways people can reduce their carbon footprint.



Background

Climate change is any significant change in the climate lasting for decades or longer. Climate patterns (e.g. temperature, rain, snow) can vary naturally, but modern climate changes are accelerated by human activity. Although scientists cannot yet predict with certainty what the long-term impacts from climate change will be, there is ample evidence of climate change effects already being felt within national parks.

 

Shenandoah National Park is a refuge for many species of animals otherwise pressured by human activities such as development and other land uses. The Shenandoah salamander (Plethodon shenandoah) lives nowhere else on the planet except a few rocky mountaintops in the park and it is the only federally endangered animal species found in the park.

 

Worldwide, there are many species like the Shenandoah salamander living in the microclimates of higher mountaintop elevations that are at risk of extinction. One factor contributing to this risk could be increases in temperature due to climate change. Locally, scientists are predicting dramatic alterations in temperature, humidity and precipitation in the Appalachian Mountains in the future.

 

Scientists are studying potential impacts of a warming climate. Shenandoah National Park is collaborating with the Smithsonian Institution, University of Virginia, and the U.S. Geological Survey to assess potential climate change impacts on its high elevation species. Research and experiments focusing on the Shenandoah salamander are investigating how climate change might affect the species' use of habitat, feeding success, growth, and competition for habitat with red-backed salamanders. This research will help resource managers understand the habitat needs of these and other species that are highly adapted to mountaintop living and to develop strategies that will help protect these species.

 

By doing this lesson, students will understand the plight of the Shenandoah salamander, will be able to educate others about the Shenandoah salamander and climate change, and will be able to make educated lifestyle choices that reduces their "carbon footprint."

This program was funded in part by a generous donation from the Shenandoah National Park Trust.



Materials

Two short videos on climate change and the Shenandoah salamander will help prepare students for their research and field study, as well as an evaluation form.



Park Connections

Shenandoah National Park (SNP) serves as a refuge for many species of animals otherwise pressured by human activities such as development and other land uses. There are over 200 resident and transient bird species, over 50 mammal species, 51 reptile and amphibian species, and over 35 fish species found in the park. Shenandoah is home to 14 species of salamanders. The Shenandoah salamander (Plethodon shenandoah) lives nowhere else on the planet except a few rocky mountaintops in the park and it is the only federally endangered animal species found in the park.



Extensions

1. Use this lesson's research procedures to sample for red-backed salamanders on the school site or nearby park area and compare with their park sample. Be sure to get necessary permission to collect data at that site and return all collected animals.

 

2. Research other resource issues in Shenandoah National Park such as air quality, invasive species.

 

3. Investigate "success stories" of other imperiled species: Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle.

 

4. Investigate the research on whether the lead-backed color morph of the red-back salamander is more likely to survive than the striped morph in a warmer climate.

 

5. Research other national parks that have serious resource management challenges and report on those to the class.



Vocabulary

Climate change, greenhouse gases, carbon footprint, endangered species, competition, microclimate