Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Less frogs than expected

DNA barcoding revealed that they all these frogs
belong to one species: Phrynobatrachus auritus
When Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) conservation biologist Jessica Deichmann joined a project to determine how the construction of a road in Gabon’s Moukalaba-Doudou National Park would affect amphibians in the area, she quickly realized something surprising: the frogs are masters of disguise.

Frogs that showed marked differences in color, pattern and general morphology belonged to the same species. Consequently, Deichmann and her team used DNA barcoding to find out which species populate the area. Based on morphology 48 frog species were counted for the region. DNA barcoding brought this number down to 28 species. When asked what she thinks are potential risks of such an overinflation of existing taxonomy, Jessica Deichmann answered:

In any analysis, results and recommendations can only be as good as the data used to develop them. This leads to inaccurate baselines and makes it impossible to accurately assess changes in amphibian communities. In this instance, one possible repercussion could have been misplacing limited resources for conservation.

It is nice to see that an integrated study utilizing DNA barcodes amongst other means leads to some lumping of inflated estimates. Sometimes DNA barcode studies are suspected to contribute to increases in species counts and taxonomic splitting. 

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