Last week I had the distinct pleasure and honour to be invited as guest docent ecology in France. A good friend of mine, Jaap van Elst, who is a lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences in Rotterdam (training aspiring biology teachers), invited me to help out in their annual ecology trip in Tigoleix, France (in the centre of the country, the Creuse). [vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][text_output]Friends of ours, Rob and Claire Veen, run a nature centre in this beautiful part of France. This particular department has been re-wilding for decades and is quite unique in Western Europe. An ideal place to get students acquainted with nature and of course reptiles and amphibians. Both Rob, Jaap and my interest is herpetofauna. Rob has done wonderful things (habitat creation and restoration) for especially the yellow bellied toad (Bombina variegata) and is involved in many more herpetological projects in France.

My specific interest is as many of you know are the disease that affect amphibians. The chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) has hit the Dutch Fire Salamanders (Salamandra salamandra terrestris) hard in the Netherlands and now migrates southwards. Carlijn and I have been sampling Fire Salamanders in Wallonia (French Belgium) this year but where ever we go in Europe we try to take some samples of the local fire salamanders for screening purposes.

The second night we were in France we were in luck: rain! With a group of students we rushed in the busses and headed to a big fire salamander population. The weeks prior were very dry so who knows, maybe they will come out! Once we arrived we searched and one student (Tina Mahn) found an individual: success! I really wanted to let them sample the animal themselves and they did. For me this was a very special moment! Later that week, after dragging the students through many field excursions it started to rain again. I could not believe my eyes (and ears!) to hear that a student (Nicole Kievit) rallied her fellow students after a long day in the field to head back out to collect more samples. Most were already enjoying a meal and a drink at the fire but she did it! Two busses, in the streaming rain, headed back out into the woods to search for the elusive Fire Salamander! A couple of interns of Rob and the nature centre joined us (really passionate students!). After arrival we surveyed two areas and found nothing expect for the odd Rana temporaria and Bufo spinosus. Then one of the interns and I remembered a spot from the first trip. We went back there and found a over flown creek in the middle of the forest teeming with Fire Salamander larvae! This turned out to be a totally new breeding site! We sampled some of the larvae (gently) and later we found an adult on the road.

At the end of the week I gave a short presentation on the amphibian crisis, amphibian infectious diseases and how this is linked to the biodiversity crisis. For me personally I found it awe inspiring that students that normally do not go out in the field and have very little knowledge on the crisis amphibians face braved the elements and fatigue to make a difference for these animals! I sincerely hope that they incorporate this experience in their lessons at high schools (among others) and educate their students on the plight of amphibians and biodiversity as a whole! It begins and ends with their passion, love and efforts and I am certain they can convey this message to the next generation!

Photos & text by Tariq Stark[/text_output][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″]

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