Conserving new frog species in precarious landscapes

bats
Mudpacking Kumbara Night Frog in Kathalekan. Picture Credit: Gururaja KV

By Priti Gururaja and Gururaja KV

It has been raining frogs when it comes to new frog discoveries from India. In an era where amphibian species and their populations are declining across the world, in India, we are still discovering new species almost at a rate of ten species per year, since 2000.

What explains this paradox? How are we discovering more species even as populations decline? Or is there more to it than meets the eye? New frog species discoveries in the recent past offer some clues. The findings suggest future directions for action-driven amphibian conservation in India.

frogs
Euphlyctis karaavali Picture Credit: Seshadri KS

The discovery of a new species of frog, Euphlyctis karaavali, which was published recently in December 2016, has an interesting back-story. The species was first observed and recorded by Mr C.R Naik, a Deputy Range Forest Officer at Dandeli Anshi Tiger Reserve in 2015. In an informal meeting at his home in a coastal village, Sanikatta, he made us listen to the call. Except for him, all of us felt it was a call from a bird, the White-throated kingfisher. But C.R. Naik was convinced that it was a frog from his backyard in a paddy field in Sanikatta.

He subsequently made a video recording documenting the frog's call (1), which finally convinced us. Together with CR Naik, we went to the field, collected few individuals for morphology, molecular, call analysis. The effort led to the description of the species, which was published in the journal Asian Herpetological Research (2). The discovery clearly shows that collaboration between citizens and scientists is helpful in understanding the amphibian diversity of India and important for fostering amphibian conservation, especially for amphibians that are found outside protected areas.

frogs
Microhyla laterite Picture Credit: Saurabh Sawant

Similarly, a diminutive frog, Microhyla laterite or laterite narrow-mouthed frog was discovered from a ‘Wasteland” of Manipal through collaboration between Mr Ramit Singhal and us. Ramit is a freelancer who was working on a conservation project, My laterite, My habitat in Manipal. The frog was found by Ramit in one of his field surveys when he recorded a call that resembled stridulation of an insect. He realised that the call was from a frog from laterite plateau in Manipal. The lateritic plateau is presently considered as a ‘Wasteland’ as per revenue records, not exactly a place one would expect to discover a new species! The species was formally described as a new frog in 2016 (3).

frogs
Male and female in courtship (male and female are marked with symbols); b. Axillary amplexus in the pair; c. Amplected pair standing upright on their hindlimb before oviposition; d. Female doing a handstand at the time of releasing eggs. Picture Credit: Priti Gururaja

While these discoveries highlight the fact that new species of frogs could be hiding in uncommon places like paddy fields or lateritic plateaus, frogs found in dense forests of India are also relatively poorly studied. For example, our decade-long study and observations on one of the endemic frogs of the Myristica swamps of the central Western Ghats led us to discover a new breeding behaviour and parental care in frogs. Further studies made us realise that it was a completely a new species which was named as Kumbara night frog (Nyctibatrachus kumbara) 4,5,6.

All the above newly discovered species are unique and unfortunately, are plagued with the common problem of threats to their habitats. Habitats of E. karaavali are under threat due to a proposed expansion of the highway, while habitats of Microhyla laterite are being actively mined for laterite rocks. The streams which N. kumbara inhabits are increasingly being diverted for agricultural purposes.

There are just a handful of scientists working on Indian amphibians, and they have a monumental task of amphibian conservation ahead of them. It is imperative to bring out more awareness about Indian amphibians not just through research but also by maximising outreach activities, by engaging and educating the citizens. One example in this direction is Bisle Frog Watch programme, where people from different disciplines are trained on observing and documenting frogs. The observations are uploaded on Frog Watch, a programme under India biodiversity Portal(7). This could help in understanding distribution of species and can help in species monitoring.

Footnotes

1. Euphlyctis Karaavali CR Naik https://youtu.be/N_GwBl74iKA
2. Priti, H., Naik, C.R., Seshadri, K.S., Singal, R., Vidisha, M.K., Ravikanth, G., and Gururaja, K.V., 2016. A new species of Euphlyctis (Amphibia, Anura, Dicroglossidae) from the West Coastal Plains of India, Asian Herpetological Research 7(4): 229-241. doi:10.16373/j.cnki.ahr.160020 http://www.ahr-journal.com/Upload/PaperUpLoad/7f40ec45-5e43-4c5e-9034-e9...
3. Seshadri, K.S., R. Singal, H. Priti, G. Ravikanth, M.K. Vidisha, S. Saurabh, M. Pratik and K.V. Gururaja. 2016. 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 11(3): e1049727. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0149727 https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0149727
4. Breeding Behaviour in Kumbara Night Frog Part 1 by Gururaja KV https://youtu.be/k0P10Pxsg5w
5. Breeding Behaviour in Kumbara Night Frog Part 2 by Gururaja KV https://youtu.be/GZW9zJsjg4Y
6. Breeding Behaviour in Kumbara Night Frog Part 3 by Gururaja KV https://youtu.be/cyg2fQLwV60
7. http://indiabiodiversity.org/group/frog_watch/userGroup/show