SLV Seniors study fluctuating salamander populations in Fall Creek

The Yellow-eyed Ensatina, a species that the group studies.  Source:
The Yellow-eyed Ensatina, a species that the group studies.

This month’s featured environmental monitoring project is on the Terrestrial Salamanders of the San Lorenzo Valley. This project is the brain-child of seniors Mikaela Slade and Jurgen Prambs, who have been conducting their research in Henry Cowell State Park since their sophomore year. This project is a variant on a previous salamander monitoring project. However, the new methods for data collection are much less detrimental to the local environment.

Twice a month, Slade and Prambs monitor their transects to count salamander and measure abiotic conditions. A transect is a sequence of five boards laid out, three meters from each other, and used as an artificial habitat for terrestrial salamanders and other species. The abiotic conditions monitored include: air temperature, relative humidity, soil temperature, and soil moisture. They then run their data through an analysis of variance program, ANOVA, to look for correlations.

When asked how he got started with his monitoring project, Prambs said, “I’ve always been interested in science and I thought this would be an interesting way to partake in a hands on project.” Indeed, Slade and Prambs won second place at the county science fair last year, and took their project all the way to the state science fair. They have discovered a correlation between the seasonal changes in the weather and the number of salamanders in their transects, and gave a talk explaining their findings to the docents of Henry Cowell State Park.

Monitoring projects are a great way to explore your interests in the natural world while contributing real data to help other with current research. A great learning experience, as Slade puts it, “This project has taught me a lot about teamwork, scientific procedures, and the scientific method, but most importantly it has taught me about our impact on the environment.” These projects also require a dedication to the natural world that can lead to many exciting future opportunities.

These environmental monitoring projects are organized by long-time San Lorenzo Valley High School biology and environmental sciences teacher Jane Orbuch. Many of these projects have been passed down from graduating students and so continued on for years. If you are interested in joining, creating your own environmental monitoring project, or in inheriting this project from our graduating seniors, please contact Ms. Orbuch in room K3 or at

-Katie Maxwell

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