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Two new species of salamander discovered in Panama

Two new species of salamander discovered in Panama

Two new species of salamander discovered in Panama
September 9, 2007

Scientists have discovered two new species of salamanders from the mountainous Costa Rica-Panama border region. The findings, published by David B. Wake, Jay M. Savage, and James Hanken in the journal Copeia, push the number of salamanders known in the region to 24, making it a hotspot in terms of salamander biodiversity.

Both species are small, slender salamanders that belong to the Bolitoglossa genus and apparently live in tropical montane forest habitat. The salamanders have prehensile tails and appear to be good climbers.

The first species, Gomez’s Web-footed Salamander (Bolitoglossa gomezi), was named in honor of Dr. Luis Diego Gomez, a Costa Rican botanist who was formerly Director of the La Selva Biological Station of the Organization of Tropical Studies. The second species, Brame’s Web-footed Salamander (Bolitoglossa bramei) was named in honor of the late Arden H. Brame, Jr., II, in “recognition of his many contributions to the study of Neotropical salamanders.”

A paratype of Bolitoglossa gomezi that appears in Wake et al. (2007). Photo by Dr. Alan Jaslow of Rhodes College

Dr. James Hanken, a herpetologist and Director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, says that while the discovery of new species is encouraging, salamanders and other amphibians are declining in Central America.

“New species of tropical salamanders from South and especially Central America continue to be discovered and described at a remarkably high rate. Species density is very high in some areas, such as the mountainous border region between Costa Rica and Panama, which we address in this paper,” he told “At the same time, many new species, as well as many of those known for a long time, have suffered dramatic population declines over recent years. Several species have not been observed alive in nature for several years, despite intense and repeated efforts to find them.”

A paratype of Bolitoglossa gomezi that appears in Wake et al. (2007). Photo by Dr. Gunther Kohler.

While it is still unclear why tropical salamanders are disappearing, a leading culprit for declining amphibians in the region and worldwide is the outbreak of chytridiomycosis, a deadly fungal disease. Some scientists believe that climate change may be worsening the outbreak by creating conditions that favor the infectious skin disease.

Other researchers say that pesticide use may specifically be affecting montane amphibian populations. In January a study led by Frank Wania of the University of Toronto found that pesticides used in lowland areas are carried by air currents to higher elevations where they are they precipitated out as rain when the air cools. The chemicals — especially the insecticide endosulfan and fungicide chlorothalonil — then accumulate in the ecosystem, potentially affecting montane forest biodiversity.

Regardless of the proximate cause, most scientists agree that amphibian populations are fast-declining. A 2006 study found that almost two-thirds of the 110 known harlequin toads (Atelopus) Central and South America went extinct in the 1980s and 1990s, while the Global Amphibian Assessment, a comprehensive status assessment of global amphibian biodiversity, classifies one-third of the world’s nearly 6,000 known amphibian species as being at risk of extinction.

In a last-ditch effort to save some of the world’s most threatened species, a coalition of zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and scientists have launched an appeal to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to set up captive-breeding facilities. The project, dubbed the Amphibian Ark, has declared 2008 “The Year of the Frog.”

CITATION: David B. Wake, Jay M. Savage, and James Hanken (2007). Montane Salamanders from the Costa Rica-Panamá Border Region, with
Descriptions of Two New Species of Bolitoglossa. Copeia, 2007(3), pp. 556-565

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