Salamanders and the Great Flood of 1993

One of my first projects upon arriving at SIUE was to survey Horseshoe Lake State Conservation Area in far southern Illinois for the presence of salamanders in the genus Ambystoma. This area protects a fragment of cypress swamp forest that has been undisturbed for almost 200 years, and that was previously well known as a site of high salamander diversity. In 1989, Jeff Parmelee surveyed salamanders at this site as part of his Master's work at Illinois State University; he recorded over 300 unique individuals in four different species in a relatively small fraction of the reserve.

Then in July 1993, the levee at Miller City (approximately 1 mile from the nature preserve) was breeched by record flood waters from the Mississippi River. Flood waters swept back to the north into HLSCA and covered the reserve to a depth of several feet for several weeks. When we surveyed the site from 1998 through 2002, we found very few of only three species of salamanders, suggesting that a large fraction of salamander populations had perished in 1993.

HLSCA represents a unique habitat type in Illinois, with large cypress trees growing in portions of the main lake.

Patty Herman and Josh Badasch, my first two graduate students, are shown here collecting zooplankton samples from one of the many ponds in the preserve, an effort to evaluate availability of prey items for larval salamanders.

In addition to searching for terrestrial adults, the focus of Parmelee's study, we also searched aquatic sites for salamander embryos and larvae.

Cypress tress also grow in the interior forest, where large cypress knees punctuate the forest floor.

While fall, winter and spring present typically decent weather for field work at HLSCA, summer can be extremely hot and humid, with mosquitos seemingly capable of carrying a human away. Here, Josh and I model the necessary head gear for surviving an August day (note the sweat on my shirt). As an added bonus, we are surrounded by head-high stinging nettle.

Back to Research Activities Page