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Two new species of mini-salamander discovered in Colombia

Bolitoglossa tamaense salamander. Photo courtesy of the authors

Biologists have discovered two new species of salamander in Tamá National Natural Park in Colombia. While the discovery should be cause for celebration, the news was dampened by the fact that both species are already infected with the deadly fungal disease, known as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which has wiped out amphibian populations worldwide. Both of the new salamanders belong to the genus Bolitoglossa, which are web-footed salamanders found in the tropical Americas.

“Discovering a new species is something that many of us who work with animal or plant species desire silently,” lead author Aldemar Acevedo with Pamplona University in Colombia told “The most important discovery in our study occurred in 2010 when we found two species of salamanders […] because, species of this group were not reported for this region.”

Discovered on the eastern flank of the Andean mountains, Acevedo and his team named one of the new species the Tama salamander (Bolitoglossa tamaense) after Tama National Natural Park, and the other Leandra’s salamander (Bolitoglossa leandrae) after a local girl, Leandra Mojica.

B. leandrae

B. leandrae

“Leandra grew fascinated by the world of amphibians,” Acevedo said in a press release. “She was eager to learn about our work and became an excellent spokesperson for nature conservation among the community.”

The salamanders are tiny: Tama salamander grows to a length of 5 centimeters (2 inches) while Leandra’s salamander is half that size: 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) or about the size of an American quarter.

Both species also appear to be rare. The Tama salamander was found in two localities, while Leandra’s salamander was found in only one. Most worryingly, scientists discovered that individuals of both species were infected with Bd. The fungus leads to chytridiomycosis, a disease that causes heart failure in amphibians by hindering the flow of sodium and other electrolytes on their skin. The disease has been blamed for a number of extinctions in recent decades.

“This is the first time that Bd is reported in this region of Colombia, we are concerned because a high number of specimens of Bolitoglossa are infected, also 24 of 34 of other amphibians species are infected,” says Acevedo. “We need to do more monitoring to assess the true threat in this region.”

Another threat is habitat loss, according to the authors who write that “all specimens of Bolitoglossa tamaense and Bolitoglossa leandrae were found in small patches of secondary forest surrounded by vast pastures used for livestock and agriculture, both of which are increasingly causing deforestation of the remaining forest.”

B. tamaense

Despite deforestation and disease, Acevedo told that there may be more new species waiting in the region.

“Tamá Park has a large hidden diversity of amphibian species; our project has reported several species that were not known to this area, two new species and several other undescribed,” he says.

Currently, the region is home to several social and education programs working with locals on conservation issues. Acevdeo says that next step is to “develop a management plan for threatened habitats” in order to undertake long-term forest restoration projects.

CITATION: Acevedo, Aldemar A., David B. Wake, Roberto Márquez, Karen Silva, Rosmery Franco & Adolfo Amézquita. 2013. Two New Species of Salamanders, Genus Bolitoglossa (Amphibia: Plethodontidae), from the Eastern Colombian Andes. Zootaxa 3609(1): 69–84.

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