Conservation genetics of extremely isolated urban populations of the northern dusky salamander (Desmognathus fuscus) in New York City

PeerJ. 2013 Apr 9;1:e64. doi: 10.7717/peerj.64. Print 2013.


Urbanization is a major cause of amphibian decline. Stream-dwelling plethodontid salamanders are particularly susceptible to urbanization due to declining water quality and hydrological changes, but few studies have examined these taxa in cities. The northern dusky salamander (Desmognathus fuscus) was once common in the New York City metropolitan area, but has substantially declined throughout the region in recent decades. We used five tetranucleotide microsatellite loci to examine population differentiation, genetic variation, and bottlenecks among five remnant urban populations of dusky salamanders in NYC. These genetic measures provide information on isolation, prevalence of inbreeding, long-term prospects for population persistence, and potential for evolutionary responses to future environmental change. All populations were genetically differentiated from each other, and the most isolated populations in Manhattan have maintained very little genetic variation (i.e. <20% heterozygosity). A majority of the populations also exhibited evidence of genetic bottlenecks. These findings contrast with published estimates of high genetic variation within and lack of structure between populations of other desmognathine salamanders sampled over similar or larger spatial scales. Declines in genetic variation likely resulted from population extirpations and the degradation of stream and terrestrial paths for dispersal in NYC. Loss of genetic variability in populations isolated by human development may be an underappreciated cause and/or consequence of the decline of this species in urbanized areas of the northeast USA.

Keywords: Genetic structure; Genetic variation; Microsatellite; Plethodontidae; Stream salamander; Urban ecology; Urban evolutionary biology.

Grant support

This research was supported by National Science Foundation grant DEB-0817259 to Jason Munshi-South. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.