Geographic and genetic isolation in spring-associated Eurycea salamanders endemic to the Edwards Plateau region of Texas

Lauren K. Lucas
Zachariah Gompert
James R. Ott

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Populations of neotenic, spring-associated salamanders of the genus Eurycea occupy discontinuous sites throughout the Edwards Plateau of central Texas and many warrant conservation attention. Here we used DNA sequence data from a nuclear (rag1) and a mitochondrial (ND4) gene to determine (1) the extent of genetic isolation among seven Edwards Plateau Eurycea populations and (2) the relationship between genetic distance and both geographic distance and hydrogeological features. Coalescent-based methods detected little gene flow among the sampled Eurycea populations, and we were unable to reject a model of complete isolation for any pair of populations. These findings were consistent with the relatively high genetic distances we detected among the sampled Eurycea populations (pairwise ϕST ranged from 0.249 to 0.924). We detected a positive correlation between genetic distance and geographic distance, which is consistent with a pattern of isolation by distance. However, while controlling for geographic distance, we did not detect a positive relationship between genetic distance and aquifer or river distance. Thus, we found no evidence that aquifers and/or rivers serve as dispersal corridors among isolated Eurycea populations. Based on these results, we have no evidence that re-colonization of spring sites by migrant salamanders following local extirpation would be likely. Our findings indicate that spring-associated Eurycea salamander populations occupying the Edwards Plateau region are genetically isolated, and that each of these populations should be considered a distinct management unit.