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DU Professor Discovers 7 Frog Species
Nov 01, 2014

The frogman of India, Delhi University professor S.D. Biju, has another feather in his cap. Biju and his team have discovered seven new species of golden-backed frogs (Genus Hylarana) from the Western Ghats-Sri Lanka global biodiversity hotspot. With this discovery, Biju has managed to clear the air on the century-old misidentification of this species of frogs. Biju is now among the top three discoverers of vertebrates of this century.

It was widely accepted that some of the golden-backed frogs found in India and Sri Lanka belonged to the same species. Using integrated methodologies, the research team has conclusively shown that the frogs on the Indian and Sri Lankan sides are distinctly different species. The frogs have finally received taxonomic justice.

This discovery has solved a long-standing problem in amphibian systematics. Golden-backed frogs of the Western Ghats-Sri Lanka biodiversity hotspot had not been studied in a rigorous and systematic way for long. As a consequence, only a handful of species were known and there were many obvious confusions about Indian and Sri Lankan frogs in the literature. By combining detailed morphological and genetic studies, Dr Biju and his colleagues have now solved this long-standing problem. This study once more confirms that both the mainland and the island have distinct fauna, and that both should be preserved.

Albert Gunther, a German-born British zoologist, described the first species of golden-backed frog from the Western Ghats-Sri Lanka biodiversity hotspot. Commonly known as Gunther's golden-backed frog, Hylarana Temporalis was originally spotted in Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) in 1864. Subsequently, it was sighted in the entire Western Ghats (right from the southern tip of India, up to Maharashtra). This species was believed to be common and widely distributed in India.

Using DNA evidence and morphological studies, our study has revealed that this species was actually misidentified in India for over 150 years. This means that the Indian populations (identified as Hylarana Temporalis) are actually morphologically and genetically different from the original form described by Gunther. In fact, the Indian populations of the Hylarana Temporalis belong to several distinct new species. Biju’s study shows that Hylarana Temporalis was believed to occur in India simply because of misidentification and lack of detailed studies.

Scientists usually search for and explore amphibians in natural forest areas. Though golden-backed frogs are predominantly a forest species, one of the new species was discovered in urban areas in and around Cochin. This clearly shows unrecognized species diversity can be found not just in the forest areas of Western Ghats but is sometimes close to our homes. This is very important from the point of view of conservation. For example, the species that we have discovered from urban areas is found in highly disturbed habitats. They face higher risk due to their proximity to human activities and require attention.

Biju's discoveries and other recent finds from India further proves how much we do not know about our biodiversity. In the race for saving 'sexy' mega-vertebrates, we are losing sight of other fauna and flora that are important for the health of our ecosystems. The government and conservationists should give more attention to the protection of all wildlife, particularly globally threatened and endemic species, not only tiger, elephant, rhinos, etc.


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