A team of biologists announced this week they’d found three new species of rare salamanders in Central Texas. The discovery of any new species is big news for science, but in Texas – where the fate of salamanders and people are often linked – it could also set up a new fight over endangered species protections.
These types of salamanders live underground in aquifers that people pump for water and build on top of. That puts their fate in conflict with industry and development and has at times steered the direction of local land use.
One reason San Antonio became a leader in water conservation was because of a court order in the '90s to protect a salamander species in the Edwards Aquifer. In Austin, there are rules protecting the endangered Barton Springs salamander.
UT Professor David Hillis is one of the biologists who discovered the three, as yet unnamed, salamanders. He says more protections will likely be necessary for them, too.
“U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supported this research, and so they are very well aware of our findings,” he said. “They’ll use this report in consultation with biologists from a number of different areas to think about which species should be protected and what modifications need to be made.”
One of the last times the Fish and Wildlife Service considered new salamander protections it provoked a backlash from some property owners and industry groups. The department ultimately listed that species, the Austin Blind Salamander, as endangered.
The researchers discovered the new salamanders in part using DNA testing. Their findings were published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.