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Biologists Identify New Groundwater Salamander Species In Central Texas Including 1 At Risk Of Extinction

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Biologists at the University of Texas have identified three new species of groundwater salamander in Central Texas including one that they say is endangered.

New Groundwater Salamander Species Endemic To Central Texas

In a study published in the journal PNAS on Jan. 14, UT professor of integrative biology David Hillis and colleagues identified the geographic ranges of more than a dozen species of Central Texas groundwater salamander by studying the genetics of specimens preserved and stored in the University of Texas Biodiversity Collections.

Genetic analyses carried out by environmental scientist Tom Devitt, from the City of Austin's Watershed Protection Department, helped identify three previously unknown salamander species.

Of these three, one still unnamed species is critically endangered. This tiny, golden-colored amphibian lives only in a small area near Pedernales River, west of Austin.

The three salamanders are found nowhere else in the world. They are also difficult to study because their underground habitats are not easily accessible.

Groundwater Salamanders And Water Quality

The groundwater salamanders of Central Texas, which measure just between 2 and 3 inches long, thrive in springs, underwater caves, and limestone channels.

These predators are crucial for maintaining the health of aquifer ecosystems and thus play an important role in preserving the quality of fresh water that residents, businesses, industries, and agriculture depend on.

""Even if people do not care about salamanders, they care about maintaining the quality of the aquifer systems that provide most of Texas with its fresh water," Hillis said.

Protecting Groundwater Salamanders From Extinction

Hillis and colleagues warn that losing these salamanders could mean compromising the aquifer systems and that this underscores a need for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to review the conservation status of these creatures under the Endangered Species Act.

"They are part of the rich biological heritage of Texas, and losing these groundwater salamanders would be a huge loss for our state's biodiversity," Hillis said. "Importantly, protecting these salamanders also means protecting the quality and quantity of fresh water that Texans rely upon."

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