Ecological associations and genetic divergence in Black-bellied Salamanders (Desmognathus quadramaculatus) of the Southern Appalachian Mountains

Jessica Wooten, Leslie Rissler


The discovery and subsequent description of cryptic biodiversity is often challenging, especially for groups that have undergone rapid lineage accumulation in the relatively recent past. Even without formal descriptions, understanding genetic diversity patterns as they relate to underlying ecological or historical processes can be important for conservation. The dusky salamanders of the genus Desmognathus, with 20 described species, comprise the second largest genus of plethodontid salamanders in the eastern United States. However, due to the presence of high genetic diversity and relatively few morphological synapomorphies, the number of species is likely to increase. For the three nominal species within the D. quadramaculatus species complex, including D. quadramaculatus, D. folkertsi, and D. marmoratus, we used a portion of the mitochondrial genome and nuclear markers in the form of amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLP) to uncover spatial patterns of genetic diversity. Within D. quadramaculatus and D. marmoratus, we uncovered four well-supported lineages with the mitochondrial sequences; phylogeographic patterns were not congruent with the AFLP data. Both sets of markers identified a clear isolation by stream distance. Using multiple regressions, we found that historical river drainages and terrestrial ecoregions explained the phylogeographic patterning we observed for D. quadramaculatus.

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