DNA evidence of newts helps fill in the missing link

Scientists have found evidence that there is no missing link in the geographical spread newt populations between England in Scotland.

Wednesday, 5th October 2016, 9:50 am
Updated Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 7:49 pm
One of the great crested newts found among telephone cables in Coldingham

The apparent absence of the great crested newt between Berwick and Dunbar had previously been something of a mystery.

However, the rare species has now been detected at Coldingham and two other sites in southern Scotland with the help of DNA tests.

It is now possible to detect this rare species in a pond, simply by taking a water sample for DNA analysis.

In 2016, volunteers collected samples across Scotland as part of a new project, called Great Crested Newt Detectives, run by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) Trust.

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Positive DNA results were recorded from ponds where great crested newts had not previously been found at Cummertrees in Dumfriesshire, Coldingham in Berwickshire and Culzean Country Park in Ayrshire.

Dr Pete Minting, ARC’s Great Crested Newt Detectives project officer, said: “The result from Coldingham is interesting because it suggests that great crested newt populations in the central belt of Scotland may be linked to those in north-east England.

“Until now, there appeared to be a gap in their distribution between Dunbar and Berwick-upon-Tweed.”

Great crested newts were first found trapped in a manhole near Coldingham in June, by engineers working on broadband cables.

After the newts had been rescued, ARC asked volunteers to look for likely breeding ponds and collect water samples.

A nearby pond gave a positive DNA result and later, great crested newt larvae were found in the same pond.

The great crested newt and its habitat is protected by law.