Madagascan Species Discovery
research by graduate student Carl Hutter and his collaborators is discovering remarkable new species of frogs in Ranomafana National Park.
Madagascar harbors incredible biodiversity in all taxonomic groups, which are increasingly threatened by habitat modification and deforestation. Relative to land area, Madagascar has the highest species richness and endemism across all vertebrates in the world. For this reason, Madagascar has been classified as a global biodiversity hotspot, thus making it a high priority for conservation. Among the incredible array of vertebrates within Madagascar, amphibians are among the most diverse. There are currently 266 described amphibians in Madagascar, with over 95% being endemic. However, a substantial quantity of herpetofaunal diversity remains undescribed (i.e. taxonomically unknown and unnamed). In 2009, Vietes et al. published a landmark paper in PNAS that gave a surprising estimate of 250+ species that remain undescribed in Madagascar, while recent research has increased this number.
Inspired by Vietes et al. 2009, Carl R. Hutter (University of Kansas) along with collaborators Shea M. Lambert (University of Arizona) and Miguel Vences (University of Brunswick, Germany) began intensive field surveys for undescribed amphibians in 2012. Based on these field collections, Hutter et al. are using morphological, acoustic, and molecular evidence to identify and describe previously unknown amphibian species. Many of these species are micro-endemic, in that their distributions are potentially restricted to a very small area with high species turnover between sites, which is a large conservation concern for these species. In addition, they are also researching the ecological and evolutionary causes of the micro-endemism in these species.