The global climate change has been blamed for yet another mishap, and that is salamanders in the Appalachian Mountains shrinking, researchers say.
Research from the past few years has been showing more and more that our warmer planet may cause some species of plants and animals to grow to be a smaller size. The salamander, already a creature under distress, seems to have decreased in size in the past 30 years, particularly in areas where the climate has gotten drier and hotter.
“This is one of the largest and fastest rates of change ever recorded in any animal,” Karen Lips, a University of Maryland biologist and author of the new paper, said in a release. “We don’t know exactly how or why it’s happening, but our data show it is clearly correlated with climate change.”
Lips and her research team collected salamanders from 78 sites in Maryland, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia beginning in the summer of 2011 and compared them to museum salamanders caught between 1957 and 2007. While one species increased a little bit in size over time, the rest averaged a one percent decrease in size each generation, resulting in salamanders currently about eight percent smaller than salamanders from before 1980.
The most dramatic change in size happened farther south, where the climate change has generally grown to be warmer and drier, Lips said. The team also used new DNA techniques to rule out disease, which Lips had observed caused a similar decline in Central American frogs.
Salamanders are cold-blooded, meaning their internal temperatures reflect the temperatures around them. When it’s warmer out, and all of their body processes speed up, burning more energy for the same activities.
They might have to eat more, they might have to be less active, they might have to change their behavior,” Lips told weather.com. “But that’s going to come at a cost as well.”
While the connection between climate change and becoming smaller is clear, the team is still working to determine whether smaller body size is contributing to the dramatic decline in salamander populations.