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Eastern red-backed salamanders: A comprehensive review of an undervalued model in evolution, ecology, & behavior
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  • M. Caitlin Fisher-Reid,
  • Kristine Grayson,
  • Sara R. Grouleff,
  • Madelyn A. Hair,
  • Tanya J. Hawley Matlaga,
  • Angelina K. Ireland,
  • Louise S. Mead,
  • Alyssa St John,
  • Meigan Starr,
  • Sean C. Sterrett,
  • Kody N. Streeter
M. Caitlin Fisher-Reid
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Kristine Grayson
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Sara R. Grouleff
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Madelyn A. Hair
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Tanya J. Hawley Matlaga
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Angelina K. Ireland
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Louise S. Mead
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Alyssa St John
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Meigan Starr
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Sean C. Sterrett
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Kody N. Streeter
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Abstract

What makes a model organism? Identifying the qualities of a model organism has been given a great deal of attention in the biomolecular sciences, but less so in the fields of evolution, ecology, and behavior (EEB). In EEB, biotic and abiotic variation are features to understand, not bugs to get rid of, and EEB scientists often select organisms to study which best suit the scientific question at hand. Successful EEB model organisms can be studied at multiple biological scales and have a wealth of accumulated knowledge on which current research programs build. A recent call within EEB to invest in the inclusive development of diverse model systems and scientists has led us to evaluate the standing of the widespread, abundant, terrestrial salamander we study, the eastern red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus). We first look at salamanders as EEB models more generally, to determine where P. cinereus fits in this broader context. We next present a comprehensive review of the literature on the eastern red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus) since the last comprehensive review was completed in 1998. The core of our paper reviews 410 recent studies and highlights inconsistencies, gaps in our knowledge, and future directions in the context of the 1998 review. Finally, we present a collaborative research network, SPARCnet, as a nascent infrastructure for continued research on P. cinereus. Here, we especially discuss how this type of infrastructure can be broadly applied not just to other salamanders, but to other model systems, so that the future of EEB research may benefit from models which accurately represent, in Darwin’s words, “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful.”