Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Salamanders Adapt to Toxic Ponds

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Salamanders Adapt to Toxic Ponds

Article excerpt

Spotted salamanders exposed to contaminated roadside ponds are adapting to their toxic environments, according to a Yale University study published in Scientific Reports. The study provides the first documented evidence that a vertebrate can adapt to the negative effects of roads by evolving rapidly.

Salamanders breeding in roadside ponds are exposed to a host of contaminants from road runoff. Chief among these is sodium chloride from road salt, which reaches average concentrations 70 times higher than in woodland ponds located several hundred feet from the road.

"While the evolutionary consequences of roads are largely unknown, we know they are strong agents of natural selection and set the stage for fast evolution," says Steven Brady, the study's author and a doctoral student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. "These animals are growing up in harsh environments where they face a cocktail of contaminants, and it appears that they are evolving to cope with them."

Brady found that salamanders in roadside ponds have higher mortality, grow more slowly, and are more than likely to develop L-shaped spines and other disfigurements. In roadside ponds, only 56% of salamander eggs survive the first 10 weeks of development, whereas 87% survive in woodland ponds. As roadside ponds become more toxic, the surviving salamanders may develop a genetic advantage over their counterparts living in woodland ponds. …

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