Olympic torrent salamander (Rhyacotriton olympicus)

Small brown salamander being held in the palm of a hand
Olympic torrent salamander
A closeup of an Olympic torrent salamander on a wood surface.
This species is native to the Olympic Peninsula. (William Leonard)
Category: Amphibians
Vulnerability to climate change (More details)

Moderate

If you see this species, please share your observation using the WDFW wildlife reporting tool or email us at  wildlife.data@dfw.wa.gov. Be sure to include a photo of the species for verification and location (latitude/longitude coordinates) of your observation. 

Conservation status and concern

The status of Olympic torrent salamanders is based on small global range (Washington native) and narrow environmental specificity. Most known occurrences (77 percent) are within Olympic National Park, with an additional 15 percent of locations on the Olympic National Forest.

National forest occurrences are within late-successional reserves and adaptive management areas that provide some level of riparian habitat protection. Occurrence in landscapes with more intact, mature habitat with legacy structures (such as coarse woody debris) will likely buffer some impacts of climate change for this temperature-sensitive species with limited dispersal ability.

Biology and life history

Olympic torrent salamanders are active year round, and the mating season is probably prolonged. No nests have been found, presumably because eggs are laid in inaccessible recesses in head-water streams and seeps.

Clutch number is also unknown, but is likely small (eight or fewer eggs). The incubation and larval periods are long (seven to nine months and more than two years respectively).

They are opportunistic predators on invertebrates. They are desiccation intolerant, have highly reduced lungs, and depend on skin surfaces for oxygen intake. Individuals are sedentary, with movements limited to several meters or fewer.

Description and Range

Physical description

The Olympic torrent salamander is a small, aquatic, stream-adapted salamander (less than 2.4 inches snout to vent length).

Geographic range

Distribution and abundance

Olympic torrent salamanders are native to the Olympic Peninsula, and distribution within the range is patchy. The species was found to be widespread within Olympic National Park where surveys found it in 41 percent of 168 streams and 47 percent of 235 seeps.

Habitat

They occur in mature coniferous forests where they inhabit cold, permanent streams, seepages, and waterfall splash zones. Stream segments tend to be shallow and slow flowing, and have gravel or rock rubble with low levels of silt. Olympic torrent salamanders tend to be more abundant in streams with north aspects, steep gradients, and cobble substrates. Spaces between rocks are used for cover.

Occupied streams need to be protected with forested riparian buffers that provide stream shading, near-stream terrestrial ambient moisture regimes, large wood recruitment, and dispersal habitat.

Climate vulnerability

Sensitivity to climate change

Moderate

Overall sensitivity of this species is likely moderate desiccation, it typically never exposures itself to conditions where that senstivity might place it at risk. It is an aquatic habitat specialist that deposits unattached eggs in concealed, often colluvially affected locations, hence, is typically found in low-order headwater streams, seeps and springs. Increasing water temperatures will negatively impact this species as it cannot survive where water temperatures are too high. Reduced snowpack and shifts from snow to rain that lead to more frequent high flow events, erosion and scouring that could make its breeding habitat riskier or actually reduce headwater riparian habitat for the Olympic torrent salamander.

Confidence: Moderate

Exposure to climate change

Moderate

  • Increased temperatures (air and water)
  • Changes in precipitation
  • Reduced snowpack
  • Shifts from snow to rain >Precipitation-induced changes in hydrology that may induce changes in headwater colluvial processes
Confidence: Moderate

Conservation

This species is identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) under the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP). SGCN-classified species include both those with and without legal protection status under the Federal or State Endangered Species programs, as well as game species with low populations. The WDFW SWAP is part of a nationwide effort by all 50 states and five U.S. territories to develop conservation action plans for fish, wildlife and their natural habitats—identifying opportunities for species' recovery before they are imperiled and more limited.