Salamanders are a group of amphibians that are easily recognized by their moderately elongate body and tail, two pairs of limbs, and smooth skin. Southern Alberta is home to two kinds of salamander: the tiger salamander on the plains (including in the Drumheller region) and the long-toed salamander in the foothills and Rocky Mountains. Most of the 700 living species of salamanders occur only in the Northern Hemisphere (e.g., North America, Europe, and Asia) and belong to modern families that originated within the last 100 million years. The prevalence of living salamanders in the Northern Hemisphere suggests salamanders originated and diversified there. By contrast, frogs (which are closely related to salamanders) are more globally distributed and much of their evolutionary history seems to have been centered in the Southern Hemisphere.
Although North American contains about one-half of the living species of salamanders and has an extensive fossil record (including in Alberta), much of what we know about the origins and early evolution of salamanders relies on fossils from older rocks dating back to the Middle Jurassic to Early Cretaceous (about 160 to 100 million years ago) in Europe and Asia. In Asia, ancient salamander fossils are known from Siberia in the northeast and from Middle Asia (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) and Kazakhstan in the southwest. In his talk, Dr. Pavel Skutschas from St. Petersburg State University, Russia reviews his work on fossil salamanders from those regions and discusses what those Asian fossils tell us about the early evolutionary history of salamanders.