Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tails from the Cryptic Newt! Crowd-funding Campaign

One of my previous research assistants, Evan, is seeking your help! He tracked rattlesnakes with me back in 2014, and is now in the Master's program at the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley. Evan is seeking donations to help fund his awesome research on black-spotted newts! Any and all donations help, even $5. Please share with others if you can.


Project Overview 

Black-spotted newts (Notophthalmus meridionalisare medium-sized salamanders within the Tamaulipan Biotic Province, ranging from San Antonio, Texas down to the southern end of Tamaulipas, Mexico. With a cryptic lifestyle, finding them is a difficult prospect. Typically, they are hiding underground in cracks or burrows estivating – possibly for years at a time – emerging at night during heavy rain events to migrate towards their ephemeral breeding ponds. These habits make finding black-spotted newts a time consuming and laborious effort.Black-spotted newts are listed as an endangered species by Texas Parks and Wildlife. Despite this, relatively little is known about them due in-part to their cryptic nature. What is known though, paints a tragic picture of a declining species. Fish introductions, cattle raising, and agricultural practices are a plight on their breeding sites. Click on the video below to learn more!

A potential newt breeding site

How Will the Study Be Conducted?

For the past 2 months, I have been locating possible newt breeding ponds throughout Texas and visiting nearby sites in southern Texas. Working in tandem with Jen Stabile, from the San Antonio Zoo, we will be visiting sites across Texas in the coming year. 
When newts are found, genetic material will be procured by taking a small (~1cm) clipping from the tip of the tail which will be stored in ethanol. Due to the cryptic nature of these newts, a new method called environmental DNA (eDNA) will be employed. This entails taking water samples from suspected newt locations and isolating genetic material from that sample. Genetic analysis will be performed using a recently designed technique called double digest RAD sequencing (ddRADseq). This method will generate a library of genetic sequences which will be compared between populations to identify population variation.
The study's budget

What Will My Contribution Be?

My project is focused on understanding the available variation within and between populations. When the data has been collected and analyzed, I will construct a distribution map depicting population divergence patterns. Sites with an abundance of newts will be given further consideration for future studies in migration habits to and from breeding ponds. With this information, future conservation efforts will have a greater chance of newt location. Further, genetic analysis will support if there is presence of a southern subspecies, as past studies suggest.

Go to project donation page to learn about awesome prizes!

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