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New Species of Endangered Frogs Discovered

May 08, 2014 11:28 AM EDT
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Fourteen new species of "dancing frogs" have been discovered in remote regions of southern India. However, scientists have discovered them just as changing environments threaten the few that remain.

According to a study published in the Ceylon Journal of Science, experts attempted the first ever "nearcomplete" taxonomy of Indian dancing frog varieties in the Western Ghats.

Researchers collected 138 tissue samples from 70 dancing frog habitats over the course of 12 years. In this time, they were able to genetically analyze each sample, revealing unexpectedly high species level diversity in the genus Micrixalus, the study authors report. 

Unfortunately, in the same length of time, the researchers were able to observe a notable decline in these animal's prevalence, as their natural breeding habitats began to disappear or become too dangerous.

According to the authors of the study, the dancing frogs - called this for their unusual mating ritual that almost resembles dancing - are approaching extinction in the remote jungle mountains of south India primarily because advancing climate change is affecting the annual monsoon season that the frogs once used to create ideal breeding habitats.

The tiny frogs - no larger than a walnut - normally wait until after monsoons have swept through the jungles, leaving stream levels low. The frogs then mate and bury their eggs in the soft and muddy stream-bed.

However, with global climate change affecting water levels and precipitation each year, water availability in the region has become erratic. The scientists observed some years where streams did not lower following a monsoon, resulting in dangerous conditions where the tiny frogs could be swept away when attempting to breed. Other times water levels proved too low, with stream beds drying and hardening, making it impossible for mothers to bury their eggs.

Lead study author and University of Delhi professor Sathyabhama Das Biju told the Associated Press that he initially saw hundreds and hundreds of the tiny frogs in muddy stream beds each year, but as conditions changed, fewer and fewer were being born - and he observed only a fifth of the initial populations.

Still, Biju and his co-authors explained that they were happy that they were able to study these animals at all before their delicate habitats disappear entirely.

"Discovering cryptic diversity is not only vital for understanding the patterns and processes of evolution, but also an important step towards prioritizing conservation needs and avoiding the risk of losing biodiversity even before taxonomic recognition, in other words - nameless extinction," the authors wrote.

The study was published in the Ceylon Journal of Science on May 8.

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