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Southern Spaces
A journal about real and imagined spaces and places of the US South and their global connections

Single Centers of Creation?

Atlanta, Georgia
Published November 30, 2009


Nancy Lowe approaches the idea of "single centers of creation" through salamander diversity in the Southern Appalachian mountains.


Detail from Nancy Lowe, Source, Species Icons exhibit, Schatten Gallery, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, 2009.
Detail from Nancy Lowe, Source, Species Icons exhibit, Schatten Gallery, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, 2009.


In this sampling from ORIGIN, a collaborative exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species and the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, artist Nancy Lowe approaches the idea of "single centers of creation" through the example of salamander diversity in the Southern Appalachian mountains.

Excerpt from Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, 1859:

Excerpt from Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, 1859.

Artist's Statement

It has been thought that, because of the tremendous diversity of lungless salamanders (Plethodontids) in the Southern Appalachians and because of the age of this mountain range, these salamanders may have originated in our veritable backyard. Recent phylogenetic research has called into question this biogeographical idea; perhaps it is not as simple and straightforward as we thought. Species originate from one place, they disperse, migrate, branch into new species, some die off . . . but then climates change, continents shift, and some groups re-evolve ancient characters, or several distantly related groups evolve similar traits (called convergent evolution), confusing the evolutionary biologists who are trying to sleuth these mysteries. We only have a few twigs from which to guess at the shape of the whole tree.

Nevertheless, I find this idea of salamander origins in the Appalachians a powerful metaphor for origins of life. There are points of origin. Each branching on the tree is a point of origin and the beginning of a new line in the story. If we could trace all our origins all the way back, we would find that we salamanders, we hominids, we birds, we slime molds and mosses all came from one placeā€”out of the water and out of the earth. The habitat of most salamanders is the moist earth, the kind of dark place that is recycled from death, yet lush with life. For me an image that bores into the center of the earth, to our origins, is equally sacred as one that opens up into heaven. Thus I have strived to honor this origin story with an earthy mandala.

Species of Plethodontid Salamanders of the Southern Appalachians

Latin Name Common Name
Desmognathus ochrophaeus Allegheny Mountain Dusky Salamander
Desmognathus monticola monticola Appalachian Seal Salamander
Plethodon chlorobryonis Atlantic Coastal Slimy Salamander
Gyrinophilus gulolineatus Berry Cave Salamander
Gyrinophilus palleucus necturoides Big Mouth Cave Salamander
Desmognathus welteri Black Mountain Salamander
Desmognathus quadramaculatus Black-bellied Salamander
Pseudotriton ruber schencki Black-chinned Red Salamander
Desmognathus orestes Blue Ridge Dusky Salamander
Pseudotriton ruber nitidus Blue Ridge Red Salamander
Gyrinophilus porphyriticus danielsi* Blue Ridge Spring Salamander
Eurycea wilderae* Blue Ridge Two-lined Salamander
Eurycea cf. quadridigitata* "Carolina Dwarf Sal."
Desmognathus carolinensis Carolina Mountain Dusky Salamander
Gyrinophilus porphyriticus dunni* Carolina Spring Salamander
Eurycea lucifuga Cave Salamander
Plethodon chattahoochee Chattahoochee Slimy Salamander
Plethodon longicrus* Crevice Salamander [SC]
Plethodon kentucki Cumberland Plateau Salamander
Eurycea quadridigitata* Dwarf Salamander [SC]
Pseudotriton montanus montanus Eastern Mud Salamander
Plethodon cinereus Eastern Red-backed Salamander
Hemidactylium scutatum Four-toed Salamander [SC]
Aneides aeneus Green Salamander [E]
Desmognathus imitator Imitator Salamander
Plethodon jordani Jordan's Salamander
Eurycea junaluska Junaluska Salamander [T]
Gyrinophilus porphyriticus duryi Kentucky Spring Salamander
Eurycea l. longicauda Long-tailed Salamander [SC]
Stereochilus marginatus Many-lined Salamander
Pseudotriton montanus diastictus Midland Mud Salamander
Plethodon mississippi Mississippi Slimy Salamander
Pseudotriton montanus Mud Salamander
Desmognathus fuscus* Northern Dusky Salamander
Pseudotriton ruber ruber Northern Red Salamander
Plethodon glutinosus Northern Slimy Salamander
Gyrinophilus porphyriticus porphyriticus Northern Spring Salamander
Plethodon dorsalis Northern Zigzag Salamander
Desmognathus ocoee Ocoee Salamander
Gyrinophilus palleucus palleucus Pale Salamander
Desmognathus wrighti Pigmy Salamander
Pseudotriton ruber* Red Salamander
Plethodon jordani Red-cheeked Salamander
Plethodon shermani Red-legged Salamander
Eurycea "Sandhills Eurycea"
Desmognathus santeetlah Santeetlah Dusky Salamander
Desmognathus monticola Seal Salamander
Desmognathus aeneus Seepage Salamander
Desmognathus marmoratus Shovel-nosed Salamander
Plethodon teyahalee Southern Appalachian Salamander
Desmognathus auriculatus* Southern Dusky Salamander
Plethodon metcalfi Southern Gray-cheeked Salamander
Plethodon richmondi Southern Ravine Salamander
Pseudotriton ruber vioscai Southern Red Salamander
Plethodon serratus Southern Red-backed Salamander
Eurycea cirrigera* Southern Two-lined Salamander
Plethodon ventralis (formerly dorsalis) Southern Zigzag Salamander[SC]
Plethodon welleri ventromaculatus Spotbelly Salamander [SC]
Desmognathus conanti Spotted Dusky Salamander
Gyrinophilus porphyriticus Spring Salamander
Plethodon aureolus Tellico Salamander
Gyrinophilus palleucus Tennessee Cave Salamander
Eurycea guttolineata Three-lined Salamander
Plethodon wehrlei Wehrle's Salamander [T]
Plethodon welleri Weller's Salamander [SC]
Plethodon cylindraceus White-spotted Slimy Salamander
Plethodon yonahlossee* Yonahlossee Salamander
Plethodontidae: Lungless Salamanders, Tree of Life web project.

This essay is adapted from Nancy Lowe's exhibit Species Icons, Schatten Gallery, Emory University, 2009. 

About the Author

Nancy Lowe is a naturalist artist and scientific illustrator based in Atlanta, Georgia. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of Art Institute of Chicago in 1986 and a post baccalaureate honors in biology from Georgia State University between 1992 and 1994. Currently she teaches nature journaling and scientific artistry at schools, universities, and museum workshops throughout Georgia.

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