First Mio-Pliocene Salamander Fossil Assemblage From the Southern Appalachians

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The Gray Fossil Site (GFS) of northeastern Tennessee has yielded a diverse salamander fossil assemblage for the southern Appalachian Mio-Pliocene. This assemblage includes at least five taxa (Ambsytoma sp.; Plethodon sp., Spelerpinae, gen. et sp. indet., Desmognathus sp.; and Notophthalmus sp.) from three families (Ambystomatidae, Plethodontidae, and Salamandridae, respectively). All taxa are present in the area today and support a woodland-pond interpretation of the site. Reported specimens represent the earliest record of their families in the Appalachian Mountains (and the earliest record of Plethodontidae and Ambystomatidae east of the Mississippi River); with the Notophthalmus sp. vertebrae being the only Mio-Pliocene body fossil known for the Salamandridae in North America. The Desmognathus sp. specimens may help shed light on the evolutionary origins of the genus Desmognathus, which purportedly has its roots in this region during the Mio-Pliocene.