Role of salamanders in food chain may be quite critical

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Washington, Feb 23 : A new study has revealed that the biomass of the black-bellied salamander far exceeds any previous estimates, and the contribution of the species and its habitat may be critical in the food chain.

University of Missouri (MU) scientist Ray Semlitsch and graduate student Bill Peterman carried out the study.

The study brings to light the critical importance of salamanders, creatures that most people don't know much about or ever see as compared to birds or mammals.

While the ecological role of the salamander is not fully understood, radio-telemetry and mark-recapture tracking methods used in the study indicate the salamanders are a critical component in the productivity of headwater streams, possibly ensuring the survival of other species of fauna.

"This is important because it is the first study to uncover the hidden biomass of these salamanders," said Semlitsch, professor of biological science in the MU College of Arts and Science.

According to Semlitsch, salamanders typically live underground.

"They live in places most people don't see, and they live in these small, headwater streams where there are no other fresh-water vertebrates," he said.

These headwater streams, according to the study, are very productive areas for salamanders and Semlitsch advocates the protection of these ecosystems.

"The final 'take-home' message of our study is salamanders comprise a huge amount of protein biomass for these headwater stream ecosystems," said Semlitsch. "We think that's important because that biomass can then be used by consumers, such as predators, or could be used by decomposers in that system," he added.

The salamanders also consume aquatic insects. According to the study, they are a key link in these headwater stream systems that has not been detected or uncovered before.

According to Semlitsch, "The amount of biomass we've reported is much, much higher than has ever been reported before, suggesting these headwater streams are very important ecosystems and they deserve protection."

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