DNA analysis of salamanders turns up new species under almost every log, UC Berkeley zoologists find

t raises questions about the preservation of biodiversity.

"In biology, we have been too conservative about recognizing new species," said botanist Bruce Baldwin, curator of the Jepson Herbarium at UC Berkeley and a professor of integrative biology. "The general practice has been, if you can't tell members of different lineages apart by eye, then you shouldn't treat them as different species. But if we lump them all together, that under-represents biodiversity, and evolutionarily distinctive populations will not receive the protection afforded to other groups."

Wake, a recognized expert on amphibians, especially salamanders and frogs, is turning up new species seemingly under every log. Even in areas that supposedly have been combed thoroughly - Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks in California - Wake and his colleagues are finding new species as part of a survey commissioned by the National Park Service.

Wake and his students also have found amazing variation within what once was considered a single species. The California slender salamander, Batrachoseps attenuatus, the most common salamander in the state, turns out to be 20 separate species spread out along the coast from Oregon to Mexico. In 1997, he found one new species in the San Gabriel Mountains outside Los Angeles, and last year found another in San Simeon.

Similarly, a biologist at the University of Maryland discovered after DNA analysis that the common slimy salamander of the eastern U.S., Plethodon glutinosus, is really 16 distinct species.

"Evolutionarily, these are distinct species, without question," Wake said. "They don't mate with one another, and they live in totally different geologic and ecologic areas."

Wake said that the number of known salamanders is increasing by two percent - nearly 100 new species - every year.

Ornithologists have found similar cryptic biodiversity in crossbills, herpetologists in reptiles, marine biologists in whales

Contact: Robert Sanders
University of California - Berkeley

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