Friday, November 2, 2012

Axolotl: last chance to grow up?

The Axolotl is a neotenous and completely aquatic salamander native to Mexico. Though the Axolotl exhibits features that only juvenile salamanders usually possess -- gills that extend far into the external environment, for example – it grows larger than these counterparts and eventually develops reproductive viability even in its neotenous form. It also has a remarkable regenerative ability.

It is a species that was once the top predator in its natural range and habitat and was a food source for the Aztec. Today, while it is found only in Xochimilco waterways, it is still exploited by Mexican natives and it faces still greater threats from declining water quality and the introduction of non-native food fishes like Asian carp and tilapia into Mexico’s waterways. The problem here is multi-faceted; these introduced fish both compete for common prey items and destroy Axolotl nesting structure. And because Axolotls are restricted to aquatic environments, the species is perhaps more prone to these kinds of threats. As a consequence, the Axolotl is quickly moving toward extinction in the wild, having faced a sixty-fold decline between 1998 and 2008.

Persistence of the Axolotl seems to be sure thing, owing to the Salamander’s ability to thrive and reproduce in captivity; and there is hope, too, for its recovery in the wild. Since Axolotls can be easily reared in captivity, they can be reintroduced to endemic areas that have been cleared of and walled off to invasive species. Still, pollution is a clear roadblock to recovery, and it remains to be seen if this problem can be mitigated in a continually urbanizing world. 

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