WEC Seminars: Susan Walls

This is a summary of a talk Dr. Susan Walls gave on Monday, March 5th, 2018.

Seminar Title: A Conservation Strategy for Recovery of Imperiled Flatwoods Salamanders

By Robinson Botero-Arias


Dr. Susan Walls is a research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Wetlands and Aquatic Research Center, Gainesville, FL. She received her B.S. from Mississippi State University and a M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. Following an NSF-sponsored post-doc. At Oregon State University, she held two tenure-track faculty positions: one at the City College of the City University of New York (1994-1996) and a second at the University of Southern Mississippi (1996-2000). With the formation of USGS’s Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative (ARMI), she left academia to join USGS as the regional coordinator of the South Central ARMI program (2000-2007) and became the regional coordinator for the Southeast region of the program in 2007.


In her speech: A Conservation Strategy for Recovery of Imperiled Flatwoods Salamanders, Dr. Wall has talked about the two species of Flatwoods Salamanders: Frosted Flatwoods Salamander – Ambystoma cingulatum, and Reticulated Flatwoods Salamander – Ambystoma bishop. Both species are protected under the Endangered Species Act, associated with the population decline with the 90% loss of historic populations of both species combined (Semlitsch et al., 2017).


The Flatwoods Salamanders are Specialists of the Longleaf Pine-Wiregrass Ecosystem of the Coastal Plain, and in the context of the population decline, the loss of redundancy, representation, and resiliency in some locations is primarily due to habitat loss and degradation, lack of appropriate habitat management, and prolonged winter droughts. The increased isolation distance and threatened sustainability of larger metapopulations.


Dr. Wall had focused her talk in explained on a strategy that, together with partner state and federal agencies, universities, and non-profit conservation organizations, is being implemented to help boost salamander populations: the ultimate goal is to reduce a species’ threats to ensure their long-term viability in the wild and allow for their removal from the list of threatened and endangered species, and the interim goal is to recover a species to the point that they can be downlisted from endangered to threatened status.


The conservation strategy for recovery the Flatwoods Salamanders have been substantiated in the 3 R’s concept to contribute to a species’ ability to sustain populations in the wild over time (Shaffer, M.L., and B.A. Stein. 2000):


  • Redundancy: spreads risk among multiple populations to minimize the potential loss of the species from catastrophic events.
  • Representation: the array of different environments in which a species occurs or areas of significant geographic, genetic, or life history variation (ecological settings).
  • Resiliency: the capacity of a population to withstand stochastic disturbance events.


The process are addressing in the concept 3 R’s in the Conservation Strategy for Recovery the Flatwoods Salamanders


  • Resiliency: Larval head-starting and release at ponds of origin, and Capture-mark-recapture studies.
  • Redundancy: Translocations within land management areas to boost a number of populations.
  • Representation: Reintroductions to ecologically diverse, suitably restored, historically occupied sites across the range.


The goals of this conservation strategy are:

  • Short-term: Rear larvae through to metamorphosis and release most at natal pond. Place some in captive facilities for the future. Captive breeding, and build up resiliency of natural populations
  • Near future: Release head-started individuals at other sites to achieve representation and redundancy throughout their historic range.
  • Long-term: Species recovery