Department of Biology graduate students and faculty members has revealed new amphibian species and populations. Josiah Townsend and former biology
graduate students Alexander Hess, Thomas Firneno, and Michael Itgen have
published a pair of studies that expands our understanding of tropical
amphibian diversity. Both papers focus on cryptic species of salamanders from
Honduras in Central America.
Cryptic species are defined as distinct species that are
virtually impossible to distinguish based on their outward appearance, instead
relying on genetic analysis to be properly identified. Often, cryptic species
represent “hidden” diversity that is concealed due to them being confused with
other species. These cryptic species can be overlooked when it comes to
understanding the biological importance and conservation needs of an area,
putting unrecognized populations at risk of extinction.
The first paper provided a taxonomic revision of one such
cryptic species, a moss salamander of the genus Nototriton. Populations from three different mountain ranges were
considered to represent the same species, but Townsend’s evaluation of genetic
and morphological variation revealed three distinct species. He named one of
the new species Nototriton nelsoni,
in honor of preeminent Honduran botanist Cyril Nelson.
The second new
species was given the name N. oreadorum,
which means “belonging to the Oreads,” in reference to a group of mythological
nature deities that inhabit mountains and valleys. Each of these two new species is known only
from a single cloud forest mountaintop, placing them at high risk for
The second paper uses genetic analyses to reveal a case of
sympatry in two cryptic species of mushroom-tongued salamanders from a site in
Honduras. At this lowland rainforest site, salamanders from two distinct
species were identified, despite being completely indistinguishable from each
other based on their appearance. Such cases of co-occurring cryptic species are
rare, and make identification of salamanders in the field virtually impossible
because of their strong physical similarity.
This second study was led by graduate student Alexander Hess
as part of his MS thesis research, in collaboration with two other IUP biology
MS students, Thomas Firneno and Michael Itgen, as well as James Nifong, a
postdoctoral researcher from the University of Florida. All three completed their
theses and graduated from IUP in 2016 before moving on to PhD programs across
the country; Hess to the University of Tulsa, Firneno to the University of
Texas at Arlington, and Itgen to Colorado State University.
These two articles, as well as other publications and
information from the Townsend Lab, are available on Josiah Townsend’s website.
J., Michael W. Itgen, Thomas J. Firneno, James C. Nifong, and Josiah H.
Townsend. 2017. Microsympatry in cryptic lowland salamanders (Caudata:
Plethodontidae: Bolitoglossa subgenus
Nanotriton) from northwestern
Honduras: implications for taxonomy and regional biogeography. Journal of Zoological Systematics and
Evolutionary Research 55(2): 150–155.
Josiah H. 2016. Taxonomic revision of Nototriton
barbouri (Schmidt)(Caudata: Plethodontidae), with description of two new
species of moss salamanders from the Cordillera Nombre de Dios, Honduras. Zootaxa 4196(4): 511–528.
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