Two surveys in the mountainous forests of Sri Lanka’s Peak Wilderness Sanctuary have uncovered eight new species of frogs, according to a massive new paper in the Journal of Threatened Taxa. While every year over a hundred new amphibians are discovered, eight new discoveries in a single park is especially notable. Sri Lanka is an amphibian-lovers paradise with well over 100 described species, most of which are endemic, i.e. found only on the small island country. Unfortunately the country has also seen more frog extinctions than anywhere else, and seven of the eight new species are already thought to be Critically Endangered.
Although the discoveries are hugely important for the Peak Wilderness Sanctuayr, lead author of the paper L.J. Mendis Wickramasinghe with the Herpetological Foundation of Sri Lanka told mongabay.com that he wasn’t surprised to uncover eight new frogs there.
“The survey in this area was initiated due to the lack of research work carried out in this area, and looking at its geography, and altitudinal changes which varies from about 600 meters-2200 meter, and the vegetation varying from lowland rain forests to cloud forests, we knew that the area’s biodiversity was under represented,” he explains, adding that “tough terrain” and “harsh weather conditions” have kept scientists out until now. The Peak Wilderness sanctuary is home to Sripada peak, an important place for not just biodiversity, but a for a wide variety of world religions, including Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism.
Each of the new species are in the Pseudophilautus genus, which is only found in Sri Lanka and nearby India. In addition, each one is easily distinguishable from the other by their morphological features, bucking a recent trend where genetics are increasingly used to find new species that look alike.
The eight new species aren’t the only discovery from the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary, which has been dubbed a World Heritage Site. Another paper by Wickramasinghe and his team recently announced the re-discovery of the starry shrub frog (Pseudophilautus stellatus), which had not been seen for 160 years and was believed to be extinct. He says all these discoveries would not have been possible without the help of project funders, including The Biodiversity Secretariat of Sri Lanka, Nagao Natural Environmental Foundation in Japan, and the Dilmah Conservation Sri Lanka.
However most of the species, including the starry shrub frog, should be listed as Critically Endangered, according to the scientists. Habitat loss, small hydropower plants, and pollution from visiting pilgrims are some of the major threats to these long-hidden frogs.
“But apart from [this] the government is planning to construct a helipad in the area of concern right now!” Wickramasinghe lamented.
Amphibians are one of the most endangered family groups in the world. Experts say that are one third of the world’s amphibians are currently threatened due mostly to habitat loss, pollution, and a killer-disease known as chytrid fungus which has likely been spread by humans and exotic frogs. Scientists think that around 130 amphibians have gone extinct since 1980, about 20 of which were found in Sri Lanka.
Even these eight new frogs may not be the last we hear from herpetologists working in the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary.
“There are many more [new species] to be published this is just a fraction of what remains to be uncovered,” Wickramasinghe told mongabay.com tantalizingly. Stay tuned.
CITATION: L.J. Mendis Wickramasinghe, Dulan Ranga Vidanapathirana, M.D. Gehan Rajeev, S. Chathuranga Ariyarathne, A.W. Amila Chanaka, L.L. Dharshana Priyantha, Imesh Nuwan Bandara, Nethu Wickramasinghe. Eight new species of Pseudophilautus (Amphibia: Anura: Rhacophoridae) from Sripada World Heritage Site (Peak Wilderness), a local amphibian hotspot in Sri Lanka. Journal of Threatened Taxa. 13 March 2013. 5(4): 3789–3920.
This article was written for Mongabay.com and reposted on Focusing on Wildlife.