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Scientists discover three new species of salamander in Central Texas

Wednesday, January 16, 2019 by Mose Buchele, KUT

A team of biologists announced this week they’d found three new species of rare salamanders in Central Texas. The discovery of any new species is big news in science, but in Texas – where the fate of salamanders and people are often linked – it could also set up a new fight over endangered species protections.

These salamanders live underground in aquifers that people pump for water and build on top of. That puts the animals’ fate in conflict with industry and development and has at times steered the direction of local land use.

One reason San Antonio became a leader in water conservation was because of a court order in the ’90s to protect a salamander species in the Edwards Aquifer. The city of Austin has rules protecting the endangered Barton Springs salamander.

UT Professor David Hillis is one of the biologists who discovered the three – as yet unnamed – salamanders. He says more protections will likely be necessary for them, too.

“U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supported this research, and so they are very well aware of our findings,” he said. “They’ll use this report in consultation with biologists from a number of different areas to think about which species should be protected and what modifications need to be made.”

One of the last times Fish and Wildlife considered new salamander protections it provoked a backlash from some property owners and industry groups. The department ultimately listed that species, the Austin blind salamander, as endangered.

The researchers discovered the new salamanders in part by using DNA testing. Their findings were published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Tom Devitt.

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