6 new species of rain frogs discovered in Ecuador
The rain frog is one of the most diverse taxa of tropical frogs, with species found across every major terrestrial fauna. New research from a team of international scientists led by James B. Schultze indicates that rain frog diversity has been declining over the past five decades and this is likely to continue if we continue to rely on the rainforest for our water supply.
“The rainforest has long been one of the most species-rich habitats on the planet, and is a unique habitat, with a unique set of characteristics,” said Stephen J. Hubbell, a doctoral student in Schultze’s lab at the University of Virginia. “We have been asking whether or not the rainforest still has the biological diversity that is critical to maintain a healthy environment. We wondered if any of the major frog families had been significantly reduced in diversity by the past five decades.”
The team conducted a survey of more than 700 rainforest samples from Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica, finding an average of 16 different species of rain frogs, more than ever before. The researchers found evidence of declines in their species diversity due to habitat fragmentation, the conversion of rainforest to grasslands or agricultural use and hunting. These declines correspond with shifts in species ranges that coincided with deforestation. The team predicts that the patterns in diversification are likely to continue if we fail to curb anthropogenic disruptions to this unique habitat.
“Deforestation and habitat loss have become a major problem in many parts of the world. Unfortunately, the rainforest is particularly susceptible to these impacts. If we are not able to address these challenges, climate change is likely to increase the pace of these impacts,” added Schultze.
A critical piece of the rain frog puzzle, according to Schultze, is the “missing link” in the evolutionary history of all amphibians. A single evolutionary transition in frogs, called the K’T’A rain frog radiation, produced an entirely new group of frogs living in moist, rainforest habitat. The new species likely emerged under the effects of the El Niño Southern Oscillation and the wet season in Panama. This is the same environmental change that we are seeing now as a