Most specimens of Salamandra atra pasubiensis are mainly black with small, irregular yellow and brown patches especially on the head, the rump and the basal part of the legs. Photo © L. Bonato, August 2014.

Unexpectedly discovered only 15 years ago at the southern edge of the Alps, Salamandra atra pasubiensis remains one of the less studied amphibians in Europe.

A single population is known, on the steep, rocky slopes that border the Pasubio Massif. It is genetically distinct and geographically isolated by deep valleys from all other populations of Alpine Salamanders. Moreover, this odd population appears somehow “intermediate” in coloration between the two other subspecies, namely S. atra atra, which is entirely melanistic, and S. atra aurorae, which is invariantly broadly yellow-patched. Some of the individuals living on the Pasubio are fully black and thus phenotypically undistinguishable from S. atra atra, but most of them have some yellow and brown patches, resembling S. atra aurorae.

The single known population of Salamandra atra pasubiensis lives in a couple of “vaji” (rocky, steep, narrow valleys) on the southern slope of the Pasubio massif, southern margin of the Alps. Photo © L. Bonato, August 2014.

The single known population of Salamandra atra pasubiensis lives in a couple of “vaji” (rocky, steep, narrow valleys) on the southern slope of the Pasubio massif, southern margin of the Alps. Photo © L. Bonato, August 2014.

At the moment, S. atra pasubiensis is listed as “Endangered” in the Italian IUCN Red List, above all for its extremely limited range of distribution.

Expeditious surveys have been carried out in the last few years with the aim to gather fresh information on the condition of the single known population, and hopefully to better estimate the actual area colonized by these salamanders. These surveys have happily confirmed that S. atra pasubiensis is still present throughout the entire altitudinal range originally recorded, that the animals are going on in reproducing, and that the habitat has not suffered evident changes since the discovery. However, up to now, there is no evidence that the salamanders might be present in other areas, but further investigations are needed. Moreover, in the next future further genetic analyses are expected to add precious information for assessing the conservation status of this narrow endemism, providing estimates of genetic diversity and population size.

By Lucio Bonato, Enrico Romanazzi