Catahoula Salamander, Ainsworth's Salamander
|Taxonomic Notes: This taxon, known only from two poorly preserved specimens, one subsequently destroyed is of questionable validity. Himes and Beckett's (2014, Southeastern Naturalist 24: 103-110) morphological studies led them to consider the taxon synonymous with the syntopic Plethodon mississippi. Pierson et al. (2020, J Herpetology 54:137-143) questioned their findings, but were unable to obtain suitable material for molecular studies and confirmed the demineralization of the skeleton that makes skeletal comparisons impossible. They state "we tentatively recommend continued recognition of P. ainsworthi as a valid but possibly extinct taxon".|
Plethodon ainsworthi Lazell, 1998
1. Historical versus Current Distribution. Bay Springs salamanders (Plethodon ainsworthi) are known from only two specimens collected in 1964 from a single site in Jasper County, Mississippi (Lazell, 1998). Subsequent collections (1 March 1991; 23 April 1991; 17 July 1991; 4 June 1992; 20–21 May 1994; 14–16 December 1994; 8 and 20 February 1995; 11 and 23 March 1995; 3 and 13 April 1995; and 27 February 1997) attempted at and near the presumed collection site using visual searching and coverboard techniques revealed other salamander species (see "Interspecific Associations/Exclusions" below) but failed to discover additional Bay Springs salamander specimens. Bay Springs salamanders, combining features of the more derived groups within the genus Plethodon, may be close to the ancestral stock of the genus. If so, biogeographical comparisons to other groups such as cambarid crawfishes (Fitzpatrick, 1986) may be revealing. The Miocene path of the Tennessee River cut nearly straight southwest from the central Appalachian Mountains to cross the Bay Springs area. As with some crawfishes, the Bay Springs salamander may be a relictual isolate far downstream of the region of active evolutionary radiation in the highland headwater drainages.
2. Historical versus Current Abundance. Unknown, but not demonstrably less common than the Eurycea and Pseudotriton species that occur at the potential sites (see "Interspecific Associations/Exclusions" below)—each of these species is represented by one or two specimens to date. Ainsworth's original collections did not include any of these species, but the data are too sparse to indicate any change in relative abundance. Both the Ainsworth site and nearby Six Springs (Lazell, 1998, p. 970) are intact and in good ecological condition. The single night hunt conducted to date, on the dry night of 23 March 1995, produced a glimpse of a possible Bay Springs salamander (R. Highton, personal communication). Rainy night hunts and drift fences with pitfall traps, presumably the best collecting methods, have yet to be tried.
3. Life History Features. Bay Springs salamanders do not fit into the usual morphological groups described by Highton (1962a) and Highton and Larson (1979), and because modern molecular techniques cannot be done on formalin-fixed animals, the phylogenetic relationships of this species will not be known until additional animals are discovered.
A. Breeding. Reproduction is terrestrial.
i. Breeding migrations. Unknown.
ii. Breeding habitat. Unknown.
i. Egg deposition sites. Unknown.
ii. Clutch size. Unknown.
C. Direct Development. Presumed.
i. Brood sites. Unknown.
ii. Parental care. Unknown.
D. Juvenile Habitat. Unknown, but likely is similar to adult habitat.
E. Adult Habitat. The presumed type locality is now a 2 ha woods. The predominant tree species are sweet gums (Liquidambar styraciflua), tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera), water oaks (Quercus nigra), white oaks (Q. alba), and loblolly pines (Pinus taeda). Understory species include sweet bay (Magnolia virginiana), magnolia (M. grandiflora), sourwood (Oxydendron arboreum), dogwood (Cornus florida), and holly (Ilex opaca). Ground cover includes ferns, especially royal ferns (Osmunda regalis) and sensitive ferns (Onoclea sensibilis), orchids (Plantanthera clavilata and P. ciliaris), greenbriars (Smilax spp. esp. pumila), and jack-in-the-pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum).
F. Home Range Size. Unknown, but likely to be small.
G. Territories. Unknown.
H. Aestivation/Avoiding Dessication. Unknown.
I. Seasonal Migrations. Unknown, but unlikely.
J. Torpor (Hibernation). Unknown, but at this southern latitude, unlikely.
K. Interspecific Associations/Exclusions. Searches for Bay Springs salamanders have revealed the presence of Mississippi slimy salamanders (P. mississippi), southern dusky salamanders (Desmognathus auriculatus), southern two-lined salamanders (Eurycea cirrigera), and southern red salamanders (Pseudotrition ruber vioscai) at Ainsworth's springs, and three-lined salamanders (Eurycea guttolineata; but not southern two-lined salamanders or red salamanders) at Six Springs. Southern dusky salamanders and Mississippi slimy salamanders are abundant at both sites.
L. Age/Size at Reproductive Maturity. Unknown.
M. Longevity. Unknown.
N. Feeding Behavior. Unknown.
O. Predators. Unknown.
P. Anti-Predator Mechanisms. Unknown.
Q. Diseases. Unknown.
R. Parasites. Unknown.
4. Conservation. The conservation status of this species is unknown. David A. Beamer (personal communication) recently visited the type locality of Plethodon ainsworthi and noted that the region has been planted to pine along the steep slopes, even across the tiny trickling streams in the ravines. Further, he notes that the type locality itself has a small amount of reasonable forest but it is surrounded by poor quality habitat. On one side is a cow pasture, another side has been recently clearcut, and yet another side is an old farmyard now covered with bamboo.
Acknowledgments. Richard Highton reviewed this account and provided valuable feedback.
Literature references for Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species, edited by Michael Lannoo, are here.
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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2021. <https://amphibiaweb.org> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 13 Apr 2021.
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