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Rebecca Creek Salamanders Could Warrant Federal Protection

In April, Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) staff worked with scientists surveying salamanders at Rebecca Creek. Image courtesy of Pete Diaz, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Lizard-like amphibians with elongated bodies and tails, short limbs and external gills are the focus of scientists keeping tabs on groundwater health in Rebecca Creek.

In April, Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) staff headed out to the area with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) scientists to collect salamanders to help determine what species are present and whether they warrant federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

GBRA shared photos of the expedition on Facebook today. It says spring salamanders who live there are Texas natives, an endemic species whose distribution is restricted to spring headwater habitats.

Rebecca Springs is a middle Trinity spring that helps provide baseflow to the Guadalupe River and inflows for Canyon Lake Reservoir. Located in northeastern Comal County, it flows from the base of the Cow Creek limestone bluff into Rebecca Creek, a tributary to the Guadalupe River above Canyon Lake.

Salamanders rely on clean, flowing springs like Rebecca Creek to maintain healthy populations.

“Salamanders are sensitive critters,” the conservation group Hill Country Alliance explained online. “With external gills and limited habitats, they are good indicators of groundwater health. They rely on clean, clear, flowing springs to maintain healthy populations. Pollution and contaminants from surface water can drastically alter water quality. Hill Country residents rely heavily on groundwater, and the status of salamander populations can tell us how we’re balancing resource protection-and-development.”

According to the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association (WVWA), low water levels in aquifers lead to less spring flow and less disolved oxygen in water. The organization also helps scientists survey salamanders and track spring flow and recharge to aquifers in northern Comal County.

Biologists at the University of Texas at Austin in January 2019 announced the discovery of three new species of groundwater salamanders in Central Texas.

The discovery was part of a project funded by USFWS through a contract with TPWD.

“Even if people do not care about salamanders, they care about maintaining the quality of the aquifer systems that provide most of Texas with its freshwater,” David Hillis, a professor of integrative biology and senior author of the paper, told TPWD magazine.

“Fortunately, what’s good for the salamanders is also really good for the people.”

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