Nine new frog species found in Western Ghats

In 2014, 41 new species of frogs have been found, all in the Western Ghats

By Mukta Patil
Published: Friday 12 December 2014

Raorchestes emerald, from fragmented forests of Valparai plateau in Anaimalai (Photo: S P Vijayakumar)

Nine new species of bush frogs have been found in the mountains of Western Ghats. The new species belongs to genus Raorchestes.

Frogs have had a long history of remaining unidentified and undocumented. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that just in the year 2014, 41 new species of frogs have been found, all in the Western Ghats. Since the history and inventory of where the frogs of Western Ghats come from and how they have come to occupy these specific geographical locations or how they have developed remains incomplete and fragmented, the find is all the more exciting. 

Raorchestes primarrumpfi from grasslands of Nilgiri (Photo: S P Vijayakumar)


A team of scientists led by S P Vijayakumar of National Centre for Biological Sciences and Kartik Shanker of the Indian Institute of Sciences, Bengaluru published a paper in the journal Zootaxa, listing their findings. The project to map species of frogs, lizards and snakes in the Western Ghats has been under way since 2008-09. It was while documenting the existing species that the scientists began to find these new varieties, named Thumbelina frogs. According to journal Nature, Western Ghats are one of the eight "hottest hotspots" for biodiversity in the world.

Raorchestes indigo from Kudremukh peak area (Photo: S P Vijayakumar)

A number of parameters—including genetics, geographical range, morphology (physical appearance) and acoustics (differences in calls)—were used to separate the frogs into lineages, to write their family tree. The researchers discovered more than 20 potentially new lineages, which means that these species separated from each other at some point in time. The nine new species were different in terms of genetic makeup, appearance, and geographical coordinates. 

Raorchestes flaviocularis (Photo: S P Vijayakumar)

The project, funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR - India), was supported by Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu forest departments.

"We were driven by our interest to understand evolutionary historical processes that drive this sort of diversity. What influences it? What sort of evolutionary history do they have?" says Vijayakumar. 

Raorchestes aureus named after its golden iris, from high elevations of Elivalmala (Photo: S P Vijayakumar)

The team took into consideration both topographical and ecological variation while mapping out already recorded species of frogs and finding new ones in the process. This kind of detailed mapping is the first of its kind. "From the conservation perspective, the implications of this study are huge. We will be able to make fine-scale assessments for conservation efforts because we now have far better maps of the distribution of these species," says co-author Shanker. 

Nine new species of bush frogs (Source: Zootaxa journal)


What is Raorchestes
It refers to a group of frog species found in south and southeast Asia. Some of these bush frogs are small enough to fit on the tip of one's thumb, measuring anywhere between 15 to 45 mm. A part of the larger family of tree frogs, they are called bush frogs because they are found in lower parts of the forest canopy, usually in bushes, shrubs and small trees. Bush frogs are nocturnal creatures, very hard to spot, and most easily found by tracking their loud calls, especially in the dark or the middle of the night.

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