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Field researchers require adequate equipment and training before undertaking amphibian inventory and monitoring activities in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Volunteers can be trained to conduct supervised activities, such as call surveys, but quality assurance and control must be maintained by a supervising biologist. Identifying the amphibians of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is often complex and difficult (Dodd, 2004). Even experienced herpetologists are sometimes unable to verify identification to species, especially among salamanders of the genus Desmognathus and for many salamander and frog larvae (notably very small animals). Experienced judgement is critical to a successful monitoring program.
Before going into the field, survey crews must be instructed in the proper use of survey techniques and map reading, and each crew member should be instructed in the use and care of each piece of equipment. Prior to beginning surveys, field trips should be conducted to examine the major amphibian communities, and to gain hands-on experience with identification, specifically with regard to key characters. Field crews should be taught why certain techniques are being used, the limitations of those techniques, and what the results will tell the researcher. Communication is important to minimize observer bias, a major cause of error in field studies. Individuals should be made to feel part of the team, and they should be credited for hard work under sometimes difficult conditions, as well as for the discoveries made.
To assist planning, a checklist is provided in appendix III for equipment needed at field sites during amphibian surveys and data collection. All crews should be briefed on the dangers of hypothermia, heat stress, lightning, and dangerous animals (yellowjackets and wasps, venomous snakes, pigs, bears, humans). Each vehicle should have appropriate first aid, safety, and communications supplies. Crews should be properly dressed for cold or heat and inclement weather, especially with regard to footwear. Never conduct surveys, even in streams, in bare feet or sandals because of the dangers of sharp rocks or glass. Crews should always provide a destination and estimated time of return to supervisors before setting out on surveys.
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