August 2021 Newsletter

the power of PLACE

RMBL Mexican Cut

What could have been a wet, soaked July 3rd turned into a day of sunshine.

The day was a celebration of the life of Dr. Scott Wissinger.  Scott has been a big part RMBL’s success.  In 1988 he picked up the torch of long-term research at the Mexican Cut from long-time RMBL’ers, including Dr. Scott Willey (link previous article) and Dr. John Harte.  Scott passed in the fall of 2019, and we were gathering this summer to celebrate him.  As his son AJ noted, Scott did so much in his life that he was chronically late.  It was only fitting that, because of the pandemic, his celebration was delayed, too.

Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL


Scott Thompson overlooking Gothic

Eat or be eaten

Scoop a fishing net into one of the ponds at RMBLS’s Mexican Cut Nature Preserve, and you can easily come up with more than one tiger salamander. But there’s no guarantee that any two individuals will look the same. From the beginning of their lives, tiger salamanders — the only salamander native to Colorado — can choose different life journeys. In the first months of life, a hatchling can transition from a typical morphology into a wide-mouthed cannibal morphology and eat other hatchlings. Then, as it matures, it can either metamorphose into a terrestrial adult, or, in ponds that don’t dry up, stay in the water and mature as a gilled aquatic adult, or paedomorph. What’s more, this paedomorph will feed on hatchlings if given the chance.

It’s this variation in lifestyles — aquatic, terrestrial, cannibalistic, or not — that has kept biologists entranced with these salamanders for decades. Dr. Howard Whiteman of Murray State University in Kentucky has studied RMBL’s tiger salamanders for 31 years. In the summer of 2018, he collaborated with Scott Thomas, then a PhD student at The University of Akron in Ohio, on some experiments to study how the cannibalism of adults on hatchlings varied with things like body size and food availability. Scott returned the following summer, completed his PhD, and then received a postdoctoral fellowship from the National Science Foundation. He’s thoroughly smitten with salamanders.