Systematics of the salamander genus Dicamptodon strauch (Amphibia:Caudata:Ambystomatidae) Public Deposited


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  • Dicamptodon is the single, extant genus of the ambystomatid subfamily Dicamptodontinae. Two species, D. ensatus (Eschscholtz) and D. copei Nussbaum are recognized. D. ensatus is found in the forested, mountain regions of northwestern California and western Oregon, in the Willapa Hills and Cascade Mountains of Washington, in extreme southwestern British Columbia, and in the northern and central Rocky Mountains of Idaho. D. copei is found in the Olympic Mountains, Willapa Hills and southwestern Cascades of Washington; and in the vicinity of the Columbia River Gorge in extreme northwestern Oregon. The two species are sympatric in the Columbia River Gorge, southern Willapa Hills, and southwestern Cascades of Washington. The two species differ, among other characters, in blood serum proteins, sensitivity to thyroxine, mode of life history, body size, relative head size, limb length, tail height, tooth number, gill raker number, color, and degree of ossification of skeletal elements. Geographic variation is prominent in D. ensatus. Multivariate analysis of morphometric characters of larval populations discriminates three groups: a Rocky Mountain Group, a Cascade and Oregon Coast Range Group, and a Californian Group. The first two groups seem to be more similar to each other than either is to the Californian Group. The Californian Group can be divided into a southern subgroup and a northern subgroup; and the northern subgroup can be further separated into a coastal subgroup and an interior highlands subgroup. These groups are all more-or-less verified by analysis of color of larvae and adults, and morphometric characters of adults. These groups correspond geographically with major features of topography in the Pacific Northwest. The California Group is confined south of the geologically old and complex Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. The southern Californian subgroup is found south of the "North Coast Divide", and the northern subgroup is found north of this Divide in an area of northwestern drainage. The interior highlands subgroup of the northern Californian subgroup is found in the higher, summer-dry mountains of northern California where the substrate is complex and of a different origin than the coastal substrate. Strong morphoclines occur across the Klamath-Siskiyou Region into southwestern Oregon. The Rocky Mountain Group is separated from the Cascade and Oregon Coast Range Group by the broad, arid Columbia Plateau. Variation is slight over the relatively small range of D. copei, and what variation exists seems to be a function of geographic distance. The dicamptodontines have been an evolutionarily conservative group confined to the humid temperate, Arcto-Tertiary environments of western North America throughout their Cretaceous and Tertiary history. A remnant of the once wide-spread, ancestral habitat occurs today in the humid fog belt of northwestern California and southwestern Oregon. D. ensatus living in this area today exhibit the most primitive features of all living Dicamptodon. These include: large heads, long limbs and tails, many teeth and gill rakers, propensity to transform, and perhaps the habit of vocalizing as a terrestrial, defensive adaptation. D. copei is viewed as a relatively recent derivitive of an ensatus-like ancestor. This ancestor is believed to have had a propensity for neoteny and body attenuation associated with life in the extreme climatic, physical, and biotic environments imposed by Pleistocene glaciation. Isolation in western Washington during a glacial maximum allowed these tendencies, along with small body size, to be selected for, unhampered by gene flow from outside populations. It is thought that the ensatus-like ancestor of D. copei was more similar to recent northern populations of D. ensatus than to recent Californian populations of D. ensatus. Californian populations were relatively unaffected by Pleistocene climatic extremes, as they passed this period in the milder, ancestral environment of southern, coastal latitudes. During the last glacial maximum, the Rocky Mountain populations were probably continuous with populations on the lower eastern slopes of the Washington Cascades, via a connecting, wet, forested parkland, which existed south of the Cordilleran ice sheet in north-central Washington. This parkland was broken up after the ice retreated, during the Altithermal interval, about 7-4,000 years ago, and it was at this time that the Rocky Mountain Group became isolated. Postglacial readjustments in the ranges of D. copei and D. ensatus account for their current narrow zone of sympatry. Subspecies of D. ensatus and D. copei are not recognized.
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