Ambystoma californiense larva in the Bay Area, California. Photo: Mary Jade Farruggia.
As a recent ecology undergraduate, with most of my formal ecology training in the classroom, feelings of despair sometimes surface when considering the reality of environmental degradation and the loss of invaluable species in incredible numbers. Formal lectures presented many perspectives of ecology and our systems, and emphasized how resilient nature can be, but the real threat of climate change, environmental degradation, and the resulting loss of biodiversity had always loomed ominously in the back of my mind, particularly in relation to amphibians, my chosen animal obsession since childhood.
Now, however, working as a field biologist in Northern California studying amphibian malformations caused by parasite infection, my perspectives have begun to change. Yes, humans threaten habitats, environments are changing, and the long-term drought in California is obviously affecting the aquatic community and those that depend on standing ponds and lakes. But, seeing, experiencing, and studying those problems myself have not exacerbated my feelings of despair, but rather, encouraged my hope for the future. Sampling dozens of ponds a week and pulling up hundreds of newts, frogs, toads, and salamanders from murky water has proven to me—more strongly than any lecture could—the ability of our environment to resist, recover, and adapt.
The California Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma californiense), for example, is considered regionally endangered in Northern California where I participate in pond sampling. When I started this job a month ago, I knew they were supposed to exist in this area, but had the sense that once a species was listed as endangered, it would be a rare event if I ever saw one, even if I was in the right region. I was quickly proven wrong. In some of the most stagnant, cattle-destroyed ponds I’ve seen, dozens of Tiger Salamander larvae would grace our nets. While I don’t think that seeing lots of Tiger Salamander larvae proves to anyone that they’re on the road to recovery, it at least proved to me that it is worth it to have hope until the very last individual is gone.
So, I say if you’re ever feeling hopeless in this massive journey to improve our ecosystems and undo so much damage that we’ve done, take a walk and look a little closer, and maybe you’ll find some hope (or salamanders), as I did in those ponds.
By Mary Jade Farruggia
Mary Jade Farruggia, a lifelong amphibian lover, is on the path to a career in herpetology research and conservation. She is a senior undergraduate student in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution at the University of California, San Diego with a minor in music. After studying abroad in Costa Rica as a sophomore, where she studied Cane Toad behavior, tropical biology, and jungle exploring, she left her heart in the rainforest and solidified her passion for amphibians. From sharing her love for outdoor ecology as a science program leader for the Girl Scouts, to exploring decades of collections as a herpetology intern at the San Diego Natural History Museum, Mary Jade seeks to share her excitement for amphibian conservation through many avenues, including the ASA!
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