Giant salamanders, geckos and olms: Vanishing species diversity in Siberia
Together with an international team, Senckenberg scientist Professor Dr. Madelaine Böhme studied the development of the amphibian and reptile fauna in Western Siberia during the past twelve million years. In their study, published in the scientific journal Peer J, the scientists demonstrate that the species diversity of both groups of animals was noticeably higher in the past than it is today. Among others, for the first time the researchers discovered an Asiatic representative of the extinct frog family Palaeobatrachidae as well as evidence of a giant salamander with a length of up to 1.80 meters.
|A fossilized gecko allows insights into the environmental conditions in Western Siberia|
six million years ago [Credit: Davit Vasilyan]
The international team of scientists around the paleontologist from Tübingen and Dr. Davit Vasilyan of the JURASSICA Museum in Porrentruy examined fossils from more than 40 excavation sites in Western Siberia, spanning the past twelve million years. These fossils were collected during 40 years of research activity by their Russian colleague, Dr. Vladimir Zazhigin.
|The Common Spadefoot. Today, it is only found as fossils in Western Siberia |
[Credit: © Davit Vasilyan]
"In addition, for the first time we were able to discover an Asiatic representative of the extinct frog family Paleobatrachidae," adds Böhme, and she continues, "And we also rediscovered an 'old acquaintance' among the fossils: The Siberian Salamander already inhabited the region beyond the Ural Mountains as early as twelve million years ago." Modern representatives of this amphibian genus have adapted to the hostile climatic conditions and survive temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius frozen in the soil.
|The Marsh Frog is one of the few amphibians that can be found both as fossils |
and as a recent species in Western Siberia [Credit: Davit Vasilyan]
"The total of our findings documents Siberia's varied biodiversity and the dynamic climate history of this region: Within a few hundred thousand years, extremely wet regions with four times the current precipitation transformed into areas with an arid steppe climate. The increasingly cooler temperatures likely led to the subsequent loss of numerous species of amphibians and reptiles," adds Böhme in conclusion.
Source: Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum [March 23, 2017]