September 11, 2008

Researchers Uncover Frog Species Thought To Be Extinct

Researchers announced on Tuesday the rediscovery of a tiny frog species in a remote area of Australia's tropical north thought by many experts to be extinct.

Having gone unseen since 1991, the 1.5 inch-long Armoured Mistfrog, was thought to have been wiped out by a devastating fungus that struck northern Queensland state, experts said.

But professor Ross Alford, head of a research team on threatened frogs at the university, said two months ago a doctoral student at James Cook University in Townsville conducting research on another frog species in Queensland stumbled across what appeared to be several Armoured Mistfrogs in a creek.

DNA tests were conducted on tissue samples from the frogs and determined they were the elusive Armoured Mistfrog, according to Conrad Hoskin, a researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra who has been studying the evolutionary biology of north Queensland frogs for the past 10 years.

Alford's group got the results on Wednesday. A spokeswoman for the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency also confirmed Hoskin's findings.

"A lot of us were starting to believe it had gone extinct, so to discover it now is amazing," Hoskin said. "It means some of the other species that are missing could potentially just be hidden away along some of the streams up there."

The Mistfrog's rediscovery was exciting, said Craig Franklin, a zoology professor at the University of Queensland who studies frogs.

Franklin called it a very significant find. "We've lost so many frog species in Australia ... Hopefully it's a population that's making a comeback."

So far, between 30 and 40 of the light brown frogs, with dark brown spots that congregate in areas with fast-flowing water have been found.

Between the late 1980s and early 1990s, the chytrid fungus was blamed for decimating frog populations worldwide, including seven species in Queensland's tropics.

Alford said Armoured Mistfrogs had been classified as critically endangered rather than extinct, but most researchers believed they had died out from the disease.

Also recently rediscovered, the Isthmohyla rivularis, a tiny tree frog was seen in Costa Rica's Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve. This species was thought to have become extinct two decades ago, but last year a University of Manchester researcher caught a glimpse of a male and now a female has been recovered as well.

"Now that we know that both sexes exist in the wild, we should intensify efforts to understand their ecology and further their conservation," said Andrew Gray, a herpetologist from Manchester Museum at the University of Manchester.

Most of the Armoured Mistfrogs that Alford's group has found were infected with the fungus, but the disease does not appear to be making them sick.

The team plans to study the creatures to try and determine how they managed to coexist with the fungus, in a bid to aid future conservation and management of vulnerable frogs.


On the Net: