Reptile and amphibian researchers meet in Manitoba in shadow of troubling report


Dozens of researchers from across the wilderness are in Manitoba this weekend to talk about all things slithery and clammy, days after a World Wildlife Fund report suggested Canada’s reptiles and amphibian swarms have plummeted by 34 per cent since 1970.

“So many of Canada’s reptiles and amphibians are species at jeopardize and facing a variety of threats,” said Joe Crowley, president of the Canadian Herpetological Companionship and an amphibian and reptile biologist with the Ontario government.

“A majority of our reptiles and amphibians are at danger across the country.”

Researchers will meet at Brandon University to examine some of the most pressing conservation issues facing reptiles and amphibians, from highway transport to habitat loss and climate change.

Turtles and cars

Vehicle traffic has designated turtles in some parts of Ontario are having a hard time surviving the relaxed, treacherous pilgrimages from their winter hibernation areas to drier upland hide-out spots during spring migration season.

Snapping turtle

Snapping turtles residents have seen a decline in recent years, leading them to be totaled to Ontario’s species at risk list. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Most amphibian and reptile species endure in the southern-most parts of the country. As humans continue to occupy more hiatus in this prime habitat more roads are built that crisscross in all respects the backyards of wet and wild creatures, posing an increasingly serious hazard, Crowley broke.

According to Crowley, at academic conferences it’s now the norm to hear several offerings on how roads are hurting reptiles and amphibians, as well as what’s being done encircling it.

“They’re constantly crossing roads,” Crowly said, adding seven of eight Ontario turtle species are registered as at-risk.

Turtle surgery

A blandings turtle before and after a repair to its shell. This is a orthodox injury the centre treats, the shell usually heals after eight weeks. They use the aggregate from an endoscope to super glue and cable ties to repair cartridges. (Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre)

Crowly added that turtles, because of their crave life-histories, are particularity susceptible to slow attrition because of highways.

“Fifty-fifty a handful of [individual deaths] from a population can be more than ample supply to cause that population to be slowly declining over time.”

There heve been some innovative policy tests in recent years, including the installation of fencing along busy highways meant to funnel turtles toward human-made “ecopassageways.” Even though, ironically, some of the very fences meant to help have been ground to trap turtles in the middle of the road like sitting ducks.

Ambiance change concerns

About a third of all Manitoba reptiles and amphibians are listed as at-risk in Manitoba.

Whereas the perspective for many endangered species outside of Manitoba is dimming as the climate warms, “Manitoba is a jurisdiction of contrast,” said biologist Doug Collicutt, co-ordinator of the Manitoba Herps Atlas.

Lithe generalists such as chorus frogs and garter snakes can live far from pristine remote parts of the boreal forest to small roadside ditches and wetlands in ares with apportionments of human activity, Collicutt said.

Plains garter snake eats eastern tiger salamander in Manitoba

Herpetologist Doug Collicutt utters stumbling upon a garter snake eating a frog is rare in itself, but verifying one swallow an eastern tiger salamander is ‘pretty astounding.’ (Laura Reeves)

The huge plains toad is considered a threatened species but Collicutt says it, too, appears in some cases to thrive in agricultural fields.

But when it comes to species myriad sensitive to change, like the hognose snake and Prairie skink in the southwest, implements don’t look so good.

Prairie skink

Following two full days of spectacles, the group will head to the Spirit Sands region in Sprucewoods Unsophisticated Park, about 190 kilometres west of Winnipeg, where they’ll pay Manitoba’s lone (and near extinction) lizard species a visit.

Most of what’s left of the stripy, olive-brown northern Prairie skink denizens in Manitoba resides in the Spirit Sands region, with one more secondary group living 85 kilometres to the west in the Lauder Sandhills Wildlife Supervision Area.

Juvenile skinks

Juvenile skinks have blue tails that cloud over to brown when they get older. The northern prairie skink is in the main found in Manitoba’s Spruce Woods Provincial Park and is listed as imperilled. (Brandon University)

The Spirit Sands is one of a handful of areas in Canada with sand dunes, cacti and western hognose turncoats.

Brandon University biologist Pamela Rutherford studies skinks and is one of the being leading the Monday field trip.

The hognose snake and Prairie skink rely on inherited mixed-grass Prairie habitats — an ecosystem that has been reduced to a fraction of what it was historically. 

“You can’t metrical call it the ‘prairie region’ as there is virtually no significant natural prairie red,” Collicutt said. “Most prairie dependent species are in trouble, referred to ever shrinking islands of habitat.”

‘Our boreal region is still in euphonious good shape, the Prairies are all but gone.’ – Doug Collicutt

As is the case with other natural grasslands, agricultural and farming activity have destroyed mixed-grass ecosystems.

It’s imaginable the skink could adapt better to climate change than other reptiles and amphibians, Collicutt holds, as they would’ve made there way into Manitoba during a duration thousands of years ago when conditions were generally warmer.

Then again, feel change will likely change the temperature and moisture profile they’ve habituated to over the millenia.

“These organisms may be unable to move because they call for the sandy soils for egg laying and hibernation. Therefore, they may be negatively impacted by mood change,” said Rutherford.

Native land preservation key

She added that it’s also outstanding to keep tabs on amphibians because their health is a reflection of how aquatic homes are doing.

“When frogs don’t survive it is because of poor water mark which can directly affect water quality for humans,” she said.

According to Collicutt, whatever develops in the near future to Canada’s frogs, snakes, lizards and turtles, the key to dehydrating biodiversity is to snatch up and protect as much native habitat as possible in the donation.

“Our boreal region is still in pretty good shape, the Prairies are all but extended,” Collicutt said. “Herp-wise, species that are generalist in their bailiwick requirements … will persist. It’s those that require natural habitats that will continue to dwindle.”

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