Friday, May 9, 2014

Indian dancing frogs

Dancing frog (credit S.D. Biju Via AP)
After writing about the decline of the amphibians world-wide I am really glad that I actually found something more positive to post about:

Researchers from the University of Delhi have discovered 14 new species of dancing frogs in the Western Ghats, a mountain range along the west coast of India. This region is supposedly one of the ten "hottest" biodiversity hot-spots in the world which makes it a very likely region to find new species. So far about 180 amphibian species were already known. The new  discoveries are a result of field studies conducted across the mountains of Western Ghats, over the past 12 years.

Only 11 species were recognized in the dancing frog family Micrixalidae previously. The family contains only one genus Micrixalus which is endemic to India. These frogs have been named dancing frogs as the males of exhibit a behaviour that is called foot-flagging, where they lift up their feet and display the colourful soles of to potential mates:

In the BBC's 'Life in Cold Blood' (episode 2) there is another example of such a behaviour shown (about 25 min in). Some of the newly discovered species are known to do similar things. The tiny frogs, about the size of a walnut, extend and whip their legs out to the side.

The new species were identified using DNA Barcoding and morphology and the authors are quick to point out that their study also showed that many of the original habitats of these frogs are highly degraded and threatened by human intervention, highlighting the need for urgent conservation action. 

In a scenario where new information is available, conservation assessment of individual species and threats in their habitats need to revisited. Micrixalidae, previously a family of 11 species with taxonomic confusions, ambiguous distinguishing characters and patchy distribution records, and which is now known to be a two-fold more diverse lineage with restricted distribution range of species, is in an urgent need of conservation reassessment. Immediate attention in this regard can go a long way in conserving extant members of this ancient and endemic group of frogs.

So after all I am not ending on a fully upbeat note but there might be hope. The Indian environment ministry earlier this year declared around 50 000 of the Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive. An earlier report had recommended that approximately 37% of the Western Ghats be kept free from activities that have “maximum interventionist and destructive impact on the environment” and be labelled an ecologically sensitive area.

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