NUS, Indian researchers discover new species

NUS, Indian researchers discover new species

A TEAM of researchers from India and the National University of Singapore (NUS) has discovered a new species of narrow-mouthed frog in the laterite rock formations of India's coastal plains.

The frog, which is the size of a thumbnail, was named Microhyla laterite (M. laterite) after its natural habitat.

The discovery by the research team, led by Mr Seshadri K.S., a PhD student from the Department of Biological Sciences at the NUS Faculty of Science, was published in the prestigious journal PLOS One on March 9.

Laterite rock formations are prominent landscape features in the Deccan Plateau of India.

They are broadly considered as rocky areas as they are usually devoid of trees and other vegetation and are, therefore, classified as wastelands. These areas are often used for dumping activities and are heavily mined for construction materials in the form of bricks.

Said Mr Seshadri, the lead author of the journal paper: "By naming the frog after its habitat, we hope to draw attention to the endangered rock formations that are of ecological importance. M. laterite can potentially be used as a mascot to change peoples' perception about laterite areas."

The frog was first spotted in laterite habitats in and around the coastal town of Manipal in Karnataka's Udupi district by independent researcher Ramit Singal - one of the authors of the journal paper. He was then conducting field surveys as part of his citizen science initiative "My laterite, My habitat".

He brought it to the attention of Mr Seshadri and his team, who worked together to describe the frog.

The 1.6cm amphibian is pale brown with prominent black markings on its dorsum, hands, feet and flanks. It has a call that can be easily mistaken for that of a cricket.

To ensure the validity of the frog as a new species, Mr Seshadri and his team studied the genes, body structure, colouration and vocalisations of four individual frogs.

They also compared the results with data of closely related species.

The team has suggested that the frog be classified as critically endangered as its geographic range is narrow, within an area of 150 sq km in south-west India.

"In spite of its geological heritage, laterite areas in India receive very little protection from any legislation.

Given the threats these fragile habitats are facing, there is a strong imperative to conserve them," said Mr Ramit.

Since the frog appears to be restricted to laterite rock formations along the west coast, the researchers intend to conduct further research to determine the evolutionary ecology of the frog, and to test for an association with laterite formations.

"How amphibians persist outside protected areas is not known.

This critically-endangered frog can be used as a basis for declaring its native laterite habitats as 'conservation reserves' or 'biological heritage areas' under existing legislations in India, allowing us to further our knowledge and understanding of amphibians," said Mr Seshadri.

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