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Image of the Day: Evolution Underground

The lay of the land shapes the diversity of groundwater-dependent salamanders.

Jan 15, 2019
Carolyn Wilke

ABOVE: Cascade Caverns Salamanders (Eurycea latitans) captured from the Honey Creek Cave above ground (right) and below (left)
IMAGE COURTESY OF THOMAS J. DEVITT

Species of salamander branch off and evolve in patterns influenced by the shape of the land and where water flows in an aquifer, researchers reported yesterday (January 14) in PNAS. To understand their diversity, the scientists studied hundreds of these amphibians from the Edwards–Trinity aquifer, a groundwater system in Texas. 

For instance, a population of Cascade Caverns Salamanders (Eurycea latitans) has two different forms, one from above ground and another more suited to life below. Some of the salamanders living in the aquifer may become endangered in the next 100 years as the climate warms and a growing human population sucks up the groundwater, the authors say.

T.J. Devitt et al., "Species delimitation in endangered groundwater salamanders: Implications for aquifer management and biodiversity conservation," PNASdoi:10.5061/dryad.3k5c0sh, 2019.

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