“NUS team makes history by finding frog with no lungs” (ST, 10 Apr 2008)

Shobana Kesava dropped into NUS yesterday to interview David Bickford and the article was out today. Pretty quick work! The accompanying map gives only a vague indication of the locality of the frog to prevent poaching. As it is the original locality was wiped out by mining and logging activity.

There is an NUS press release too (thanks to freshbrainz for the pointer). Since David is being such a poster boy these days for Southeast Asian biodiversity, I decided to throw in this bonus photo of David with Doddy Aryadi, while Budi Susilo searches in the background. Photo by Tan Heok Hui from Aug 2007.

“NUS team makes history by finding frog with no lungs,” by Shobana Kesava. The Strait Times, 10 Apr 2008. Kalimantan find is only the 4th creature with backbones known to breathe without lungs.

SINGAPORE scientists have discovered a lungless frog that breathes through its skin – a find that makes evolutionary history.

The aquatic frog is affectionately called Barbie – short for its scientific name Barbourula kalimantanensis. It was found in two mountain rivers in the heart of Kalimantan last August.

A group of nine researchers, led by evolutionary biologist David Bickford from the National University of Singapore (NUS), found the flat, dark brown frogs with golden specks under smooth rocks in clean, cool and fast-flowing water.

Their findings are set to be published next month.

Since animals first waddled onto land eons ago, only three other creatures with backbones – two groups of salamanders and a single species of the earthworm-like caecilians – have been known to forsake their lungs.

Dr Bickford, 39, said Barbie absorbs oxygen dissolved in the water through its skin.

‘The discovery is not so much a surprise to the scientific community as much as a surprise that it has taken so long to find it,’ DrBickford said.

One reason could be that the frog resides deep in mountain rivers and is fully aquatic.

A fisherman first took a Barbie to Indonesian scientist Djoko Iskandar in Kalimantan in 1978. He had been searching for the animal ever since.

Part of the NUS team last August, DrDjoko co-authored the scientific paper with DrBickford.

‘Djoko was near tears when we found them after all those years of searching,’ said DrBickford.

The specimens the NUS team discovered were well over 50km from where the first frogs were spotted by local fishermen.

Their original wading grounds had become prime gold-mining and logging territory.

‘They must have been forced upstream from their original habitats…so we got to the end of the logging road and started the search,’ added DrBickford.

He hopes the find will help spur research into South-east Asian wildlife, much of which is threatened by development.

‘Frogs are a clear indication of how degraded our environment is, so if people who know the terrain can help us discover what we have and preserve it, my work in conservation will be worth it,’ he said.

Indonesian zoologist Indraneil Das, who studies amphibians and reptiles, said the discovery of a lungless frog could stir up national interest.

‘This shows us yet another innovation by amphibians. If the findings are read by the government and if it does something about them by way of conservation…that will be a good thing for all concerned, except perhaps the gold-miners.’

skesava@sph.com.sg

Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.

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