This goal of this research program is to examine the relationship between the population biology and degree of genetic differentiation among populations of the spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum. First, the patterns of genetic differentiation among lineages of Ambystoma breeding populations in central New York will be described using nuclear molecular markers (microsatellites) developed specifically for this species. In addition, a detailed field study of one breeding population will determine the extent to which individual behaviors such as dispersal, tendency to return to specific breeding ponds, and reproductive success contribute to these patterns.
The importance of this study lies in elucidating the processes contributing to differentiation and, ultimately, diversity among organisms. The study of how organisms become different species has been a main focus among biologists, but is still a mostly unanswered question. This research will investigate how certain life history characteristics and an animal's behavior affect the degree to which populations become genetically distinct; these processes are possibly the same first steps that affect diverging species, thus contributing to the origin and maintenance of biodiversity.