Local Newts and Leeches in the National Spotlight

Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve is front and center as part of two national wildlife studies.

by Lee Irminger, Elachee Natural Resources Manager

When we talk about the important role Elachee plays in the region’s conservation and preservation efforts, do you ever consider the national implications?

Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve is part of a study to determine if a newly identified fungus harmful to amphibian populations in Europe has been introduced to the Western Hemisphere. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative (ARMI) is conducting a national reconnaissance effort looking for Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal). The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative (ARMI) is conducting a national reconnaissance effort looking for Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), selecting Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve as one of 30 study sites in Georgia.

The study targets areas most likely to have animals transported to or through them via the pet trade, and examines animals that are most likely to be susceptible to the disease. With metropolitan Atlanta and the outlying counties named one of those likely areas, the USGS identified the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve as one of 30 Georgia locations containing wetlands to conduct a one-time capture, swab and release of the animals. 

After obtaining a research permit from Elachee Nature Science Center, USGS personnel visited Chicopee Lake where they used nets to find and catch Eastern Newts. Several newts were identified, swabbed for analysis and released. Upon arrival at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) in Madison, WI, these swabs will undergo molecular analysis to identify the presence of the pathogen. Elachee will receive analysis results. After obtaining a research permit from Elachee Nature Science Center, USGS personnel visited Chicopee Lake where they used nets to find and catch Eastern Newts, swab them for analysis, then release them.

During the site visit, the USGS field team also observed numerous leeches within Chicopee Lake. A research zoologist with the Smithsonian Institution contacted Elachee requesting permission to collect several leeches for genetic analysis. The researcher is attempting to determine the ranges of different leech species to help mark the extent of the range for the particular species.

Look a Little Closer

If you routinely hike in Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve, you have seen the morphological diversity of Elachee streams. There are two easements crossing the Preserve that make up a significant area of non-forested land. Some of the higher elevation, smaller headwater streams are rockier and narrower with a lower volume of water as compared to a larger tributary like Walnut Creek. The section of stream pictured crosses an easement, and features several small waterfalls formed as the stream passes over exposed rock. Schools of fish tend gather in the deeper, more highly oxygenated pools that typically follow waterfalls.

Elachee Nature Science Center is legally responsible for protecting and preserving over 1,900 acres within the Chicopee Woods Area Park. Ongoing conservation projects, such as the USGS/ARMI and Smithsonian Institute studies, ensure the Area Park, and within it the 1,440-acre Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve, is a healthy forest and wetland teeming with native wildlife habitats and native plant communities.There are two easements crossing the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve that make up a significant area of non-forested land.