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Reforestation at Alchichica: an attempt to secure the future for Taylor’s Salamander habitat – Alfredo Hernández Díaz

By on February 23, 2018 in EDGE Updates, Focal species, Amphibians

EDGE Affiliate Alfredo works with the Critically Endangered Taylor’s salamander at Lake Alchichica, Mexico, the only place in the world where the salamander is found.

One of the biggest threats that the Taylor’s salamander is facing is habitat loss due to the rapid desiccation of Alchichica, the Crater Lake where the salamander lives. This problem is due to a change of soil use for agriculture. For almost 500 years people have cleared nearly all the extant forest in the region. This has caused precipitation to be lower than evaporation, and the six crater lakes have lost a significant amount of water on the last 50 years. The water level of Alchichica has decreased by 5 meters since the last century, but just between 2016 and 2017 the lake lost 36 centimetres of water – equivalent to 817 million litres of water! Water loss in Alchichica may be causing an increase in salinity, which could compromise the salamander’s survival.

 

The Taylors salamander. Photo credit: Jose Alfredo Hernandez Diaz

 

After some meetings with local authorities where we proposed a series of strategies to protect the salamander and Alchichica, they agreed to support our initiative starting with two important actions: a reforestation effort inside the crater and around the water body, and the protection of two thirds of the lake’s perimeter by closing access to vehicles, in order to reduce pollution. So we planned the event for the first week of December, inviting schoolchildren from four towns located around the lake, as well as their parents and authorities from the Ministry of Environment. A local farm donated 1500 trees and the Municipality donated another 1000 trees. We had incredible support from the authorities. However, planting 3000 trees in a single day was going to be an impossible mission. Therefore, I asked the Ministry of Environment to support us with fire squads. They dug the 3000 stumps for the trees in four days, so that everything was ready on time.

 

Lake Alchichica, Mexico, where the Taylor’s salamander is found. Photo credit: Jose Alfredo Hernandez Diaz

 

The day finally arrived. Authorities organised a small reception event for the 400 participants. The Major, the Minister of environment and I gave a short welcome speech, including the directions for the participants. The Major mentioned the salamander during his speech, telling people it is very important to protect it. A politician speaking about amphibian conservation – I will never forget that! After the speech, we divided all the people in nine teams, planting trees in the entire perimeter of the lake. Each tree was supplied with “solid rain”, a special gel that retains water and releases it for the tree roots gradually, protecting them against drought.

 

Photo credit: Jose Alfredo Hernandez Diaz
Over 400 volunteers came out to help! Photo credit: Jose Alfredo Hernandez Diaz
Photo credit: Jose Alfredo Hernandez Diaz

 

As additional protection for the lake, the local government closed two spots from the road which goes all around the lake in order to avoid vehicles passing there, creating a protected area of two thirds of the perimeter of the lake. It will help reduce the pollution because people will not be able to carry much stuff and they will not litter in that area. Authorities also prohibited shepherding around the lake in order to protect recently planted trees from being eaten by livestock.

This is just one step, but I think is the biggest step so far for protecting Taylor’s salamander habitat. We are now visiting the lake to water the trees, collaborating with local people. If we continue this way, the future for Taylor’s salamander looks very promising.