All of the three new species belong to the salamander genus Desmognathus and are found in the southern Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States, according to George Washington University’s Professor Alexander Pyron and his colleague, Dr. David Beamer from Nash Community College.
In their new research, Professor Pyron and Dr. Beamer revised the taxonomy of the black-bellied salamanders Desmognathus folkertsi and Desmognathus quadramaculatus from the southern Appalachian Mountains.
While the former was well known to scientists, the latter was poorly characterized and subsequently found to consist of two distantly related groups of several genetic lineages.
“Black-bellied salamanders have been commonly studied for over 100 years,” Professor Pyron said.
“In 2002, a cryptic dwarf species was discovered, and, in 2005, DNA evidence began to suggest there were still more.”
“It wasn’t until our NSF-funded research in 2020 that we were able to sequence genome-scale data to figure out there were actually five similar-looking species.”
The authors noticed that certain morphological, genetic and geographic aspects differed among the specimens of Desmognathus quadramaculatus, including variation in size, shape and color pattern.
After sequencing the genome from Desmognathus quadramaculatus, they discovered five separate species, three of which are new to science: Desmognathus gvnigeusgwotli, Desmognathus kanawha, and Desmognathus mavrokoilius.
“After looking at multiple specimens, we see obvious and substantial phenotypic variation between most lineages,” Professor Pyron said.
“In fact, the name ‘quadramaculatus,’ which was used for over 120 years, is not the correct name for any of these five species.”
“We tracked down the original specimens at museums in Philadelphia and Paris and found that they belonged to a totally separate species.”
“This raises the question of how ‘cryptic’ they ultimately are.”
“Future studies should offer substantial additional insights into the evolutionary history, geographic distribution, ecological interactions, and other aspects of the new black-bellied salamanders,” the scientists concluded.
Their results were published in the journal Bionomina.
R. Alexander Pyron & David A. Beamer. Nomenclatural solutions for diagnosing ‘cryptic’ species using molecular and morphological data facilitate a taxonomic revision of the Black-bellied Salamanders (Urodela, Desmognathus ‘quadramaculatus’) from the southern Appalachian Mountains. Bionomina, published online July 19, 2022; doi: 10.11646/bionomina.27.1.1
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