Salamander bucket brigades represent grassroots volunteer efforts to reduce road mortality of amphibians. Simulations by Sean Sterrett and colleagues found that efforts to move outbound metamorphs are more influential than inbound adults. Find out more about their citizen science efforts.

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Young members of the ‘bucket brigades’ help salamanders to safety

As the last signs of winter diminish; air temperatures rise, icy cover on ponds melts and spring rains begin to warm soils, amphibians emerge from forests to make migrations to seasonal wetlands. This necessary part of their life history often requires moving across complex landscapes, including dangerous roads. These synchronous events, often termed ‘big nights’, are a staple of the Northeastern United States, where salamanders can be found making their way across challenging terrain. Strangely enough, these migrations also bring out an unsuspected character: people who want to make sure the salamanders make it across the roads safely.

‘Big nights’ citizen science events (also called salamander bucket brigades in the U.S. and toad patrols in Europe) engage local citizens interested in moving amphibians across roads. These efforts often engage citizens of all ages to move adult salamanders, toads and more across roads towards their breeding pond. However, salamanders in particular make two other major movements in these reproductive events: adults move from the pond back to the forest (where they stay for the rest of the year), and then later on, the metamorphic salamanders disperse away from the ponds.

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Sterrett, SCKatz, RAFields, WRCampbell Grant, EHThe contribution of road‐based citizen science to the conservation of pond‐breeding amphibiansJ Appl Ecol2019001– 8https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.13330

In a recent study, we took all available life history data on the spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum), simulated populations under varying scenarios of citizen science effort and found that while all citizen science efforts are helpful to populations, efforts focusing on moving adults and metamorphs leaving the breeding pond may improve a spotted salamander population in the future.

Read the full paper, The contribution of road‐based citizen science to the conservation of pond‐breeding amphibians in Journal of Applied Ecology.