Extinction Countdown

Extinction Countdown

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Nationwide search leads to rediscovery of 5 frog species in India


Raorchestes chalazodesFive "lost" frog species, including one not observed by science in the past 136 years, have been rediscovered in India.

These finds are the result of the Lost! Amphibians of India project, a yearlong attempt to locate 50 frog species that have not been seen in India for many decades. Several of these species are thought to possibly be extinct or are so rare that little data exists about them.

"This find is an important one," says University of Delhi associate professor and project coordinator Sathyabhama Biju. "If we need to conserve these species, we have to first find them. I believe this rediscovery is an important step forward in the conservation of Indian amphibians."

The rediscovered species include the chalazodes bubble-nest frog (Raorchestes chalazodes), last seen in India in 1874; the anamalai dot-frog (Ramanella anamalaiensis), last seen in 1937; the Dehradun Stream frog (Amolops chakrataensis), for which only one specimen, found in 1985, has previously been seen; the Silent Valley tropical frog (Micrixalus thampii), last seen 30 years ago; and the elegant tropical frog (Micrixalus elegans), only described by scientists once back in 1937. This last species's only known habitat is threatened by a proposed hydroelectric project.

Biju reports that three of the five species live in highly degraded habitats and remain at risk of extinction. Habitat loss from human development remains the greatest threat to India's amphibians. "The homes of many endemic amphibians are under great pressure," Biju says. "Many of these areas have already disappeared. If we need to conserve amphibians we need to conserve their habitats."

Although the project lacks funding, Biju has pulled together 150 volunteers into 15 teams to search the Indian countryside. "It is indeed a very challenging task to coordinate an initiative of this magnitude," he notes.

Biju says he has "guarded confidence" that many of the remaining 45 missing frog species will be rediscovered over the next 10 months. "India has the highest number of lost amphibian species, and the period for which they have been 'lost' is simply incredible—from 18 years to as long as 170 years! We hope that we will be able to find the remaining lost species."

India has 321 known amphibian species, 180 of which inhabit no other country.

Photo: The rediscovered chalazodes bubble-nest frog (Raorchestes chalazodes), last seen in 1874. Courtesy of S. D. Biju

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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