One of five in a series on the wildlife of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Smokies have been nicknamed “The Salamander Capital of the World” due to the abundance and variety of species that live in the park, including Jordan’s red cheeked salamander. Salamanders play a surprisingly hefty role in the ecosystem, particularly the carbon cycle – their diet mainly consists of “shredding invertebrates”, or bugs that rip leaves into little bits (releasing carbon) and eat them. Less shredding invertebrates means more leaves left on the ground, trapped under other leaves, where carbon can be captured by soil.
Jordan’s red cheeked salamander is threatened by two invasive species in the park: wild boars and hemlock woolly adelgids. Wild boars are notorious for their rooting behavior, or tearing up soil and vegetation in search of food. They will consume whatever they come across this way, including salamanders. Hemlock woolly adelgids are a less direct danger. They infest eastern hemlocks, killing off a species that provides vital shade for organisms that require a cooler micro-climate. The temperature difference in streams from this lack of shade has been determined to be as much as 7 degrees Fahrenheit.
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