The genus Salamandra represents a clade of six species of Palearctic salamanders of either contrasted black-yellow, or uniformly black coloration, known to contain steroidal alkaloid toxins in high concentrations in their skin secretions. This study reconstructs the phylogeny of the genus Salamandra based on DNA sequences of segments of 10 mitochondrial and 13 nuclear genes from 31 individual samples representing all Salamandra species and most of the commonly recognized subspecies. The concatenated analysis of the complete dataset produced a fully resolved tree with most nodes strongly supported, suggesting that a clade composed of the Alpine salamander (S. atra) and the Corsican fire salamander (S. corsica) is the sister taxon to a clade containing the remaining species, among which S. algira and S. salamandra are sister species. Separate analyses of mitochondrial and nuclear data partitions disagreed regarding basal nodes and in the position of the root but concordantly recovered the S. atra/. S. corsica as well as the S. salamandra/. S. algira relationship. A species-tree analysis suggested almost simultaneous temporal splits between these pairs of species, which we hypothesize was caused by vicariance events after the Messinian salinity crisis (from late Miocene to early Pliocene). A survey of toxins with combined gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy confirmed the presence of samandarine and/or samandarone steroidal alkaloids in all species of Salamandra as well as in representatives of their sister group, Lyciasalamandra. Samandarone was also detected in lower concentrations in other salamandrids including Calotriton, Euproctus, Lissotriton, and Triturus, suggesting that the presence and possible biosynthesis of this alkaloid is plesiomorphic within the Salamandridae.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Molecular Biology
- Mediterranean biogeography
- Species tree
- Steroidal toxins