My post-doctoral study investigated whether specific ecological or genetic parameters explain selective larval deposition (oviposition) sites of a terrestrial amphibian (the fire salamander, Salamandra salamandra, left).
You can learn more about the Fire Salamander, its habitat and distribution in Europe here. My interest stems from the fact that they breed in headwater streams and wetlands and utilize the surrounding terrestrial landscape for life-history activities.
Recent research has identified within a population discrete habitat selection of oviposition sites between and within forest pools and streams with this choice leading to discrete genetic and behavioral differentiation.
These studies have established evidence for sympatric speciation within this population, whereby a single species gradually develops into two reproductively separate species within their natural home range (and without outside physical or environmental influences). This phenomenon is rarely documented in vertebrate communities and there exist even fewer opportunities to assess the suite of genetic, behavioral, and ecological parameters on an organism where this occurs.
Typically female salamanders deposit larvae in small headwater streams (left). However, in a region in western Germany, we have observed salamanders depositing larvae in pool habitats (typically vernal pools, but even tire ruts; below left) within normal home ranges for female salamanders and near streams with salamander larvae.
Work by Dr. Sebastian Steinfartz at the University of Bielefeld has provided genetic and behavioral evidence that distinguish individuals between these two habitats, however we still lack an understanding of how the ecology of these habitats play a role in this observed differentiation.
My project will determine the extent to which ecological factors influence sympatric speciation observed at this site through the collection of multiple ecological parameters at pool and stream sites, and to perform an in-situ transplant experiment to test larval fitness and success of individuals remaining in natal sites to those transferred to a contrasting environment (pool or stream).
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