Right under our noses! Microhyla laterite, a new and endangered species of frog discovered through an integrative taxonomic approach

Grad student Seshadri reports with jubilation:

Dear Colleagues,

Greetings!

It gives me great pleasure to share this recent publication reporting the discovery of a new species of frog from the Coastal plains along the Southwest part of India.

One would agree that amphibians are among the most fascinating creatures owing to the sheer magnitude of diversity, the enormous range of behaviour and an ecology that we are finding intriguingly intricate. Further, taxonomy and systematics are a fundamental key to documenting biodiversity and in recent years, amphibian species richness in India has grown in leaps and bounds – just a couple months ago, there were reports of new species being discovered from India.

In our rather unique study, we report the discovery of Microhyla laterite, not from the super species rich Western Ghats but from laterite rock dominated areas a sleepy little town of Manipal, Udupi District in Southwest India. This discovery is a case of a new species hidden in plain sight for decades, and all this while, thought to be a variant of the common Microhyla ornata. Using an integrative taxonomic approach spanning genetics, morphology and bio-acoustic comparisons, it was actually easy to tell them apart!

Map showing type locality of M. laterite sp. nov. (Seshadri et al., 2016)
Screenshot 05

The new species has a distribution range that is less than 150 sq. km and as we propose the new species, we suggest assigning it as Endangered (EN) under B1ab(iii),(iv) of the IUCN Red List. This discovery is significant to us because we now have a mascot to champion the cause of conserving laterite habitats which, even on official government records, are listed as “Wastelands”!

The study is perhaps the first in India where species discovery and subsequent description has been undertaken with a citizen engagement program. Mr. Ramit, my co-author is an engineer by training and was conducting outreach activities as part of his novel initiative, “My Laterite, My Habitat”. He noticed these frogs and investigated further with fellow nature enthusiasts Mr. Saurab and Pratik. The three of them are not part of an academic set up but are passionate about nature and its conservation. This led to a collaborative effort with my long term mentor and colleague Dr. Gururaja and his team and we certainly think it is the right step forward in future.

The paper has been published in PLOS One earlier this morning and is hot off the press: Seshadri KS, Ramit S, Priti H, Ravikanth G, Vidisha MK, Saurabh S, Pratik M and 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.

I hope you will find the paper interesting and as always, I look forward to your criticisms, comments and perspectives on this work.

Have a good day!

Thanking you,

Sincerely
Seshadri

With warm regards
Seshadri K S

PhD candidate
Evolutionary Ecology and Conservation Lab
Department of Biological Sciences
National University of Singapore
14 Science Drive 4
Singapore 117543

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