Supramonte cave salamander (Speleomantes supramontis)
Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 150511222
Assessing the status of European cave salamanders (genus Speleomantes and Atylodes).
European cave salamanders are amphibians belonging to the plethodontid family. This family is present in Europe with only two genera which are endemic or sub-endemic to Italy. The genus Speleomantes consist of seven species distributed in Sardinia Island and in Apennine Peninsula, while only one species belong to the genus Atylodes which is restricted to Sardinia. Three species of Speleomantes (S. strinatii, S. ambrosii and S. italicus) are distributed on Italian Apennine, while the other four Speleomantes species (S. flavus, S. supramontis, S. imperialis, S. sarrabusensis) and the genus Atylodes (A. genei) are endemic to Sardinia. Thus, Sardinia harbours the highest number of European plethodontid species, which are limited to the South-East of the island, in which each species is restricted to one single or few massifs.
Cave salamander species show some special characteristics: they are fully terrestrial and lack lungs and a larval stage. These peculiarities cause a very selective choice of habitats: they require high moisture and cold temperatures. The combination of physiologic features and limited distributions make these species highly sensitive and susceptible to risk of extinction, such as habitat loss, direct disturbance and genetic erosion. Actually, European, Italian and local laws protect Speleomantes and Atylodes species.
One critical point is the regular occurrence of salamanders in caves. These species are usually associated with caves, especially when surface conditions are too harsh. From one side, high density of salamanders in caves make them especially vulnerable to disturbances (e.g. cave tourism and habitat loss). On the other side, the intrinsic complexity of caves make difficult their exploration and the management of long term studies. Such studies may give precious information about the status of population (dynamics, trends, structure) which are essential to evaluate the threatening of species. In this circumstance, caves play an important role, giving the opportunity to find many individuals in a delimited space and collect large amount of data. Actually, only few long-term studies were performed on ecology and phenology of cave salamanders and they concern only two species.
The aim of our project is to monitor populations of European cave salamanders during their underground activity. Analyzing many aspects of cave salamanders populations we want to investigate if there are any critical issues that may compromise survival of individuals. Repeating such analysis through the time and on a sample of different populations, we could produce new insights useful to assess the status of all cave salamander species.