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Twenty new species of frogs identified in Madagascar

Taxonomists all over the world are working to discover and classify new species before they disappear, in order to help protecting our planet’s dwindling biodiversity. Now, a large international team of specialists has made a major stride forward in clarifying the taxonomy of Madagascar’s frogs, naming and describing 20 new species.

The newly identified frogs belong to the genus Mantidactylus and subgenus Brygoomantis, which contained only 14 species until now. These tiny, brown frogs – with males emitting subtle calls to attract females – are ubiquitous along streams in Madagascar’s humid forests. 

“The calls typically sound like a creaking door, or a gurgling stomach,” said study lead author, Mark D. Scherz, the Curator of Herpetology at the Natural History Museum of Denmark. “Finding, recording, and catching calling individuals of these frogs is a real challenge, but has proven critically important for the discovery and description of these many new species. That means a lot of time on hands and knees in the mud.”

 “This is the culmination of intensive fieldwork across Madagascar over more than 30 years,” added Frank Glaw, the Curator of Herpetology at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology. “Our dataset contains genetic data from over 1,300 frogs, and measurements of several hundred specimens.”

The scientists used a cutting-edge tool called “museomics,” where DNA is sequenced from old museum material. Although this process is often difficult (since DNA degrades over time), by using a method called “DNA Barcode Fishing,” the experts succeeding in obtaining DNA sequences from most of the relevant museum materials.

“Museomics gave definitive identifications of sometimes very ambiguous-looking specimens,” explained study senior author Miguel Vences, a professor of Evolutionary Biology at the Technical University of Braunschweig. “This gives us a level of confidence in our species descriptions that was not previously possible based on morphology alone.”

However, there are still several Brygoomantis lineages which are most likely separate species, but scientists did not have enough data or material to identify them. “Even for those species for which we have names, we know almost nothing about their biology or ecology. We need a lot more field research on these frogs, and more specimens in museum collections, to really gain a good understanding of them,” concluded co-author Andolalao Rakotoarison, the co-chair of the Amphibian Specialist Group for Madagascar.

The study is published in the journal Megataxa.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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