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Discovery of an American salamander where it shouldn't be: Korea

Imagine discovering pandas in California or kangaroos in Argentina.

For David Wake, one of the world's leading experts on amphibians and a professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, an equivalent surprise was the recent discovery in Korea of a type of salamander that comprises the majority of species in the world, but is totally unknown in Asia and rare outside the Americas.

"I've discovered and named nearly 50 species of salamanders - more than 10 percent of the total in the world. I've discovered new genera in Guatemala and Cost Rica. But this tops everything I've ever found by a long ways," Wake said. "For me, this is the most stunning discovery in the field of herpetology during my lifetime. It's so utterly unexpected, so completely unexpected."

The discovery of a lungless salamander from the family Plethodontidae was made two years ago by Stephen J. Karsen, a biologist from Illinois who teaches in the Taejon Christian International School in Chungcheongnam-do province midway down the western edge of the Korean peninsula. Wake, the world's top expert on lungless salamanders, and colleagues in South Korea and Illinois report the discovery and their analysis of the new species, which they named Karsenia koreana, in the May 5 issue of Nature.

The find suggests that the lungless salamanders are more widespread than people thought, and some 60 to 100 million years ago may have had a worldwide range, from the Americas through Europe and Asia. Since then, as the world's climate cooled, salamanders in the Americas flourished while those elsewhere somehow suffered extinction.

"It's really huge," said Robert Kaplan, a professor of biology at Reed College in Portland, Ore., and an expert on Korean frogs and salamanders, who heard about the find a few weeks ago. "The closest relative to the critter they are reporting for the first time is probably here in the Pacific Northwest. So, you have a major biog
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Source:University of California - Berkeley


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