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Cave Sweet Cave

Sampling environmental DNA has enabled researchers to identify caves in which rare blind cave salamanders dwell, New Scientist reports.

The salamanders, also known as olms or baby dragons, live in caves throughout the Balkans, it adds, noting that they are only ever seen if heavy rains wash them out or if people go cave-diving. The salamanders are endangered and protected by law in a number of European countries, including Croatia.

Using eDNA, researchers from Hungary and elsewhere examined water samples from 15 caves in Croatia to find the presence of the olms in 10 caves they were known to be in as well as in five others, as they report in PLOS One. New Scientist adds that conservationists are now using the approach to map out where the salamander live.

Still, Matthew Barnes from Texas Tech University tells New Scientist that eDNA sampling is a complementary approach. "It's never going to replace the hard evidence of having a fish, or a blind salamander in your hands," he says.

Study author Judit Vörös of the Hungarian Natural History Museum agrees, noting that eDNA sampling has helped them identify additional caves with salamanders that they now can study in greater detail through traditional means.