The Larch Mountain salamander (Plethodon larselli Burns, 1954) is an endemic species in the Pacific northwestern United States facing threats related to habitat destruction. To facilitate development of conservation strategies, we used DNA sequences and RAPDs (random amplified polymorphic DNA) to examine differences among populations of this species. Phylogenetic analyses of cytochrome b revealed a clade of haplotypes from populations north of the Columbia River derived from a clade containing haplotypes from the river's southwestern region. Haplotypes from southeastern populations formed a separate clade. Nucleotide diversity was reduced in northern populations relative to southern populations. These results were corroborated by analyses of RAPD loci, which revealed similar patterns of clustering and diversity. Network analyses suggested that northern populations were colonized following a range expansion mediated by individuals from populations located southwest of the river. Changes in the Columbia River's location during the Pliocene and Pleistocene likely released distributional constraints on this species, permitting their northern range expansion. Based on the barrier presented by the Columbia River's present location and differences in haplotype diversity and population structure observed between northern and southern populations, we suggest that designation of separate management units encompassing each region may assist with mitigating different threats to this species.
Additional publication details
Geographic variation, genetic structure and conservation unit designation in the larch mountain salamander( Plethodon larselli)