A new frog species

14 Mar 2016 Researchers in NUS engage with citizens in India to describe the new species of frog as Microhyla laterite.

The study was led by Ph.D. student Mr Seshadri K S from the Department of Biological Sciences in NUS and a team of collaborators from India who joined hands with citizens to engage them in nature conservation. This led to the discovery of a new species of frog which has been named as Laterite narrow mouthed frog (see Figure). This frog, named after the laterite rock formations is known as Microhyla laterite and is found nowhere else on Earth. It was first seen during expeditions as part of ‘My Laterite: My Habitat’, an outreach initiative by Mr Ramit SINGAL, an engineer by training turned full time nature conservationist in India. Identifying this frog was difficult and the team resorted to various techniques like measuring the frog, analyzing its call and finally analyzing its DNA. Based on preliminary assessments, this frog which is about the size of a thumbnail is believed to be endangered as the distribution of this frog is under 150 km2 within Southwest India (which is less than1/3rd the size of Singapore).

Amphibians are threatened globally and yet, people know very little about them in biodiversity-rich countries like India. India is home to a great diversity of frogs and recently, several new species have been discovered. How amphibians persist outside protected areas is not known. Citizens, with their interest and passion in nature conservation can bridge this gap. Three authors in the team were not trained scientists but ordinary citizens and it reiterates the importance of engaging citizens in furthering their knowledge and understanding of amphibians. This discovery demonstrates the critical collaborative role played by naturalists and citizenry in documenting biodiversity, and ultimately its conservation.

Laterite rock formations are an important landscape feature in the Deccan Plateau of India but are considered to be ‘trash’ habitats and are often converted to housing blocks or garbage dumps. The new frog species M. laterite is restricted to these rocky areas and can potentially be used as an mascot to change public perceptions about laterite areas. The endangered frog should be used as a basis for declaring laterite habitats as “Conservation Reserves” or “Biological Heritage areas” under existing legislation in India, the authors claim. Subsequent steps would be to rigorously survey other such areas to document the behaviour and ecology of M. laterite.

Frogs of the genus Microhyla are widespread in distribution across tropical regions. The most recent discovery of a Microhyla from India was M. sholigari. Recent studies from Bangladesh have predicted the presence of undescribed species in this genus. The discovery of M. laterite throws light on how much remains to be known about amphibians, right in our backyards. Mr Ramit was supported financially by Rufford Small Grants, Mr Seshadri was supported by the Mohamed Bin Zayed Fund for Nature and the Chicago Zoological Trust and Dr Gururaja was supported by the Earthwatch Institute, India. Mr Ramit Singal was the recent recipient of the prestigious Carl Zeiss Wildlife Conservation Award and Mr Seshadri is the recipient of the prestigious, ‘Future Conservationist’ award by the Conservation Leadership Program.

 

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Figure shows an adult male of the newly described frog Microhyla laterite from Manipal, India. [Image credit: Seshadri K S]

 

Reference

Seshadri KS, Ramit S, Priti H, Ravikanth G, Vidisha MK, Saurabh S, Pratik M, Gururaja KV. “Microhyla laterite sp. nov.,” A New Species of Microhyla Tschudi, 1838 (Amphibia: Anura: Microhylidae) from a Laterite Rock Formation in South West India. PLOS One. 9th March 2016. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0149727