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The Mysterious Salamanders Fighting Extinction Under Central Texas

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Researchers warn that all of the underground salamanders living in an aquifer system near Austin could disappear in the next century.

There’s another world beneath the soil of Central Texas, one that is dark, wet, and mysterious. It’s an isolated kingdom ruled by a unique group of underground salamanders. Now, new research has officially added three new species to its roster.

But this world is not safe from aboveground pressures, and the researchers who discovered these new species say one is already critically endangered. Their study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also indicates another previously described species is much more imperiled than they thought.

The researchers write that, ultimately, all of the underground salamanders living in this particular aquifer system could disappear in the next century.

An Ongoing Mystery

Central Texas is underlain by limestone, which over millennia has been eroded by water to form aquifers comprised of vast mazes of caves and channels. The top predators in here are small, pale aquatic salamanders of the Eurycea genus that have evolved to live their lives entirely underground. Many are blind or nearly so, having no need to see when their world is pitch black.

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