January 15, 2014
Genes And Calls Reveal Greater Diversity Of Amazon Frog Species
Amazonian biodiversity has been studied for hundreds of years. Early explorers of Amazonian plants and animals included renowned naturalists of the stature of Alexander von Humboldt and A. R. Wallace. Despite this long history of exploration, new studies are resulting in the discovery of a large number of new species. The key of these discoveries lies in the use of advanced new tools for species detection.
"These findings could not be possible without large-scale genetic sampling" said Dr. Santiago Ron, one of the authors of the study. "The genetic data allows the discovery of species that have been hidden in museum shelves for decades. Genetic screening is opening a new age of scientific discovery in biodiversity studies in the Amazon region."
"Cryptic species" are two or more species mistakenly classified as a single one. Traditionally, taxonomists recognized species purely on morphological grounds and therefore failed to discriminate between species with similar appearance. The increasing use of DNA sequences for species recognition is demonstrating that current estimates vastly underestimate the true Amazonian species richness.
The discovery of cryptic diversity also has important implications for the conservation prospects of the species. "What were considered two species with wide geographic distribution turned out to be eleven species with much smaller geographic ranges. This change implies that each species has a higher extinction probability," said Dr. Ron. "If our results are typical of Amazonian amphibians, a large scale reassessment of their conservation status and geographic distribution will be required."
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