Jillian Newman watches her research in action: the green salamander in its natural habitat.

Jillian Newman watches her research in action: the green salamander in its natural habitat.

Jill Newman graduated from Clemson University in December 2017 with a master’s in wildlife and fisheries biology. Since then, she has had a chapter of her thesis accepted for publication in the “Journal of Herpetology.”

The journal is an international peer-reviewed, quarterly publication of the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles and was selected as one of the “100 most influential journals in biology and medicine worldwide over the last 100 years” by the Special Libraries Association.

Newman’s article, titled, Green Salamander estimated abundance and environmental associations in South Carolina,” will appear December 2018.

The research Newman has conducted on salamanders and their habitats could further efforts to conserve an animal essential to ecosystem health. The National Forest Service has found at least one recommendation of Newman’s that they could use: keeping a buffer of trees around rocky areas where green salamanders live.

“These small defenseless creatures are imperative for a healthy ecosystem; living on the forest floors, they eat insects that humans consider pests, like mosquitoes and ticks,” said Newman. “Salamanders worldwide are experiencing population declines and because of their importance to the environment and to humans, I believe that we as humans should protect them.”

Clemson University is located right on the edge of the Salamander Capital of the World – the southern Appalachian Mountains – and contains over 30 species of salamanders right in its backyard. Yet, salamanders are listed as “critically imperiled” within the state of South Carolina with populations declining since the 1970s due to threats such as habitat loss, climate change, over-collection and disease.

Newman specifically studied the green salamander. Found on the Eastern United States, their flattened bodies and square toe tips are designed for living in granitic or limestone rocky outcrops, even recently discovered living in trees.

“My first chapter examined the environmental predictors of green salamander distribution and abundance in South Carolina, specifically Oconee, Pickens and Greenville counties,” said Newman. “We worked on a multistate project with Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia as part of a competitive state wildlife grant to better understand ‘where’ and ‘why’ green salamanders live where they do. Other goals of the grant were to swab salamanders for disease and to increase the understanding of arboreal habitat use.”

Kyle Barrett, associate professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at Clemson, is working with Newman to write the manuscript for the second chapter of her thesis, along with a collaboration by Mike Sears, biological sciences professor at Clemson, and Eric Riddell, a graduate alum of Clemson and current post doc at U.C. Berkeley.

“Jill was an incredibly dedicated graduate student,” said Barrett. “Her hard work and leadership has helped to provide our state Department of Natural Resources with important information that can be used to protect Green Salamanders, a species that appears to be declining rapidly. In addition to reporting her research to state biologists, Jill also had her work accepted for publication by the Journal of Herpetology. Publication ensures that scientists throughout the range of Green Salamanders can access our findings and use them to better understand this species of conservation concern.”

Since graduating from Clemson University, Newman has taken a position as Team Lead at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va. working with spotted turtles.

“This spotted turtle project is part of a competitive state wildlife grant incorporating Maine to Florida,” she said. “All of the states in this range are contributing to a range-wide status assessment of the species. I then took a position with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission working with endangered frosted flatwoods salamanders. At this job, I help conserve salamanders by checking populations at occupied wetlands and assist with head-starting larval salamanders. In the future, I plan to continue working as a wildlife biologist by conserving threatened and endangered species of reptiles and amphibians and helping with habitat restoration of key habitat areas.

Newman thanked the S.C. Department of Natural Resources for funding this project via a competitive state grant.