A dozen frogs new to science were discovered in the forests of Western Ghats (Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka. Goa, Maharashtra, and part of Gujarat). Amphibian researchers S D Biju of Delhi University, Systematics Lab and Franky Bossuyt of the Amphibian Evolution Lab of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel have published their discoveries in the latest issue of Zoological Journal of Linnean Society, London.
The paper in Zoological Journal of Linnean Society, London describes the discovery of 12 new species including the revision of the genus Philautus. These findings are the result of 10 years of extensive field study in the Western Ghats throughout its 1600 km range. Field studies were complemented by DNA research. This publication is unique because it is the first publication that describes a large number of vertebrate novelties in independent India.
After independence of India, 9 new Philautus species were described. To this, Biju and Bossuyt have added another 18 new species within four years from 2005 to 2008.
Some highlights that Biju and Bossuyt have stressed in the publication in Zoological Journal of Linnean Society are:
- Rediscovery: This study has rediscovered a ‘lost species’. Travancore bushfrog (Philautus travancoricus) was considered extinct since it was last reported more than a 100 years back. In this study the species was rediscovered from a highly degraded environment in its original locality.
- 12 new species: First publication to describe a dozen new species of vertebrates from India after its independence.
- Western Ghats: The Western Ghats mountain range, stretches 1600 km from extreme southern tip of Indian peninsula in Mahendragiri in Kanyakumari district up to Tapti river basin in Gujarat. The Ghats have yielded spectacular amphibian discoveries including the Purple frog described in 2003. A total of 25 frogs have been discovered by Biju and his collaborators since 2003. The discoveries include the new family of frog Nasikabatrachidae, the smallest Indian tetrapod- Nyctibatrachus minimus, the first Indian canopy frog-Philautus nerostagona and others.
- Vanishing frog habitat: This discovery further highlights the need to conserve species and their habitat in the Western Ghats. Forests here continue to be threatened and large areas are being destroyed for plantation and urbanization. The Western Ghats is home to a large number of endemic species that are not found outside the Ghats. Seemingly small disturbances in their habitat could wipe out several species. Once a species is lost, it cannot be brought back by any effort. Seven of the 12 new species were only found in unprotected areas which were forests some time back. Habitats are rapidly disappearing and immediate steps are required to protect the remaining forests from human activities like plantation and urbanization. The researchers believe that scientific conservation should replace thoughtless exploitation of natural resources.
- Need for focus on amphibians: Many species of amphibians are disappearing due to transformation of natural habitat to land for cultivation and urbanisation. IUCN Global amphibian assessment has recorded that we have lost 200 amphibian species since 1980 and one in three among surviving amphibian species are on the verge of extinction. This is alarming and calls for strong and sustained efforts from conservationists and forest managers to conserve this vanishing diversity.
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