Informing Critically Endangered giant salamander conservation in China

Theme: Biodiversity, Ecology & Conservation

Primary Supervisor:

Andrew Cunningham

Wildlife Epidemiology Theme, IOZ

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Secondary Supervisor:

Laurent Frantz

School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, QMUL

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Additional Supervisor(s):
Sam Turvey (Institute of Zoology)

Project Description:

The Chinese giant salamander, the world’s largest amphibian, is endemic to China where it is a top predator in freshwater ecosystems. Giant salamanders were formerly distributed across a large area of central, eastern and southern China, but exploitation increased from the late 1970s to supply a domestic luxury food market. A massive-scale farming industry now threatens wild populations through continuing illegal harvesting to stock farms, and risk of disease transmission and genetic pollution associated with accidental escapes or deliberate “conservation” releases of farmed animals that have been moved around China.

The conservation of highly threatened taxa is dependent upon the availability of robust baseline information on key population parameters. Determining species boundaries and understanding the taxonomic identity and distinctiveness of populations of conservation concern are essential steps needed to inform effective management decisions. We have identified the presence of multiple genetic lineages of Chinese giant salamander, including at least three distinct, but cryptic, species.

The successful candidate will use molecular (e.g. eDNA) and morphological techniques and ecological fieldwork to investigate the distribution and abundance of each newly-identified Chinese giant salamander species, and determine methods of identifying each species. The presence of any of these lineages in captivity in zoos/aquaria/farms in China or elsewhere will also be investigated. Research will include field and laboratory work in China for extensive periods, working in close collaboration with Dr Fang Yan in Yunnan University, Kunming.

Policy Impact of Research:

The results of this research will inform the conservation management of at least three newly-identified Critically Endangered giant salamander species, including in situ protection and the desirability and feasibility of developing ex situ conservation breeding programmes.

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