Invasive Salamander Carries on Endangered Genes While Killing off Natives

By Eliza Strickland | June 30, 2009 1:05 pm

salamander hybridThe union between the native California tiger salamander and the non-native barred tiger salamander, which was brought in huge numbers from Texas beginning 60 years ago by California bait dealers [The New York Times], has produced an alarming hybrid offspring. A new study of the hybrid’s behavior in artificial ponds serves as a reminder that invasive species can alter ecosystems in unexpected ways: in this case, by getting too cozy with the natives of central California.

 The new hybrid “superpredator” grows larger than either of its parent species, and its bigger mouth enables it to suck up a wide variety of amphibian prey, said lead study author Maureen Ryan…. Mostly on the menu are smaller pond species, such as the Pacific chorus frog and the California newt—both of which were “dramatically reduced” in population by the hybrid in the experiments [National Geographic News].

In the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers found that in its larval stage, the hybrid salamander devoured tadpoles and larvae of many amphibian species, including the larvae of the native tiger salamander, an endangered species. “The implication is they’re ecologically quite different than the native species,” Ms. Ryan said. That could spell trouble for other “third-party” species in the [Salinas] valley, like the California red-legged frog and the Santa Cruz long-toed salamander [The New York Times], if the hybrid continues to spread through the area.

The question of what to do about the hybrid and its hungry, hungry ways poses an ethical quandary for conservationists, says Ryan. After all, the hybrid is part endangered species, so “do we protect [them] because they’re part native?” Overall, Ryan said, her “real concern” is for the survival of California’s native salamander, which has shown to be no match for the half-Texan interloper. The hybrid’s more aggressive predation “benefits the hybrid and harms the native, speeding up the process of converting populations into more hybrids” [National Geographic News].

Related Content:
80beats: Salamanders Are Quietly Vanishing From Central American Cloud Forests
80beats: Who Ruled the Triassic Food Chain? A Crocamander (or Is It “Frogodile”?)
DISCOVER: Salamander Tongue Strikes Like a Crossbow 

Image: Brian MacElvaine

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • Nick

    Can’t stop evolution, baby!

    I mean, seriously, stuff like this happened before humans came around. It will continue after we’ve evolved into something else.

  • Ralph

    I was actually thinking the exact same thing as you Nick.

  • Duane

    Just because hybridization is one of the outcomes of this introduction of an alien species does not mean that it is “evolution”. Extinctions did happen before humans arrived. But now extinctions are occuring at a tremendous rate, because people are not careful about what habitat they destroy or how they move species around. Ecologically, this is not really different from any other introduction of a non-native predator – and that type of introduction has caused the rapid extinction, extirpation, or marginalization of native species time and time again.

  • http://yahoo michelle

    I think the pr0cess of energy and life will bring about new forms of Salamander. When this one runs out of food source; it will relocate or become something else. Nature always finds a way to bring about new life. Maybe even a bigger stronger type; which will better be able to defend itself.
    Life always finds a way to live on! Maybe different, but there will be life!

  • Dr. Iggly Piggly

    I believe I’ll root for the HYBRID SALAMANDERS.

    It’s just like modern man to out all his hair worrying about salamander
    sex lives. Some humanoid ape dumped some Texan TIGER SALAMANDERS over in with the California TIGER SALAMANDERS, and some eggheads somehow think it’s their business to try and cook up some kind of salamander genocide that will eliminate these “invasive hybrids”.

    Don’t worry, eggheads, soon it’s all gonna come down, and we’ll be in the Second Stone Age. Nature will make very innovative adjustments, and we probably won’t be sailing around on ships, mixing all the damn animals up again, for tens of thousands of years to come.


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