Vertebrates exhibit structural changes in their cardiovascular and gas exchange systems in response to hypoxic conditions in high altitude environments. In highland neotenic mole salamanders, as other amphibians, the majority of gases exchange is carried out for skin and gills. But, in high altitude environments, the available oxygen is lower than it is in the air thus, the scarcity of oxygen limits the survival of organisms. Many studies on this subject have focused on understanding the hematological mechanisms that amphibians exhibit in response to hypoxia. However, little is known about possible morphological changes in respiratory structures that may permit increased gas exchange during respiration in high altitude amphibians like Ambystoma leorae and A. rivulare, two threatened Mexican salamander species. The aim of the present study was to describe and compare the histological characteristics of the gills and dorsal skin of A. leorae and A. rivulare from populations at low and high altitudes. We found that, in comparison to lowland organisms, highland ones exhibited more pronounced skin folds, greater numbers of secondary branches in the gills, thinner dorsal and gill epidermises, and greater quantity of melanin surrounding the gill blood vessels. These differences permit a greater capacity for gas exchange and also increase thermoregulatory capacity in high altitude environments.
KEY WORDS: High altitude; Histology; Critical endangered; Ambystoma rivulare; Ambystoma leorae.