Priority areas of intraspecific diversity: Larzac, a global hotspot for facultative paedomorphosis in amphibians


Mathieu Denoël, Laboratory of Fish and Amphibian Ethology, Behavioural Biology Unit, University of Liège, 22 Quai van Beneden, 4020 Liège, Belgium. Tel: +32 4 3665084; Fax: +32 4 3665113


Although the designation of biodiversity hotspots is a valuable tool to improve conservation efforts, this is a concept primarily based on species diversity. In consequence, another component of biodiversity, adaptive variation, is often ignored in conservation and to my knowledge no attempt has been made to identify hotspots of remarkable intraspecific patterns. My aim was to focus on the process of facultative paedomorphosis (i.e. the retention of larval traits such as gills in adult variants), a rare developmental pathway. One hundred and seventy-four ponds were inventoried in Larzac (France) to determine the distribution and abundance of paedomorphic palmate newts Triturus helveticus (Amphibia, Caudata) and to compare these results with the current distribution of paedomorphs in this and other species. During this study, paedomorphic newts were found in 46 ponds, 32 of which were described here for the first time. Seventy-nine per cent of known paedomorphic populations of this species were found there, whereas this area covers only 0.5% of the distribution area of the species. This represents the highest known density of facultatively paedomorphic populations, all species being considered. Because these populations face a high threat of disappearance, Larzac should be designated as an intraspecific biodiversity hotspot in order to protect adaptive intraspecific variation. Future conservation-oriented work should focus not only on species distributions but also on phenotypically diverse but spatially localized variation.