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Reef Report for Sunday, January 14, 2007

New Species of Frog Found in Local Rain Forests
Rare species may already be threatened with extinction.

The announcement of a newly discovered species is always an exciting moment, as biologists itís great to realize there is still spaces to explore and discover. The recent discovery of a new species of frog gives us exactly that feeling, but also a bit of sadness, as the announcement of the new discovery was also accompanied by a sober warning as to the possible dim future for this species.

Biologists Michael Mahony, Stephen C. © Michael Mahony Donnellan, Stephen J.Richards, and Keith MacDonald comprised the team of researchers that announced the discovery recently.

It was not your typical discovery, but more a result of an team of experienced researcher applying their knowledge in collaboration. In this case Dr. Mahoney noticed that descriptions of the Northern Barred Frog, a large frog found in the tropical rainforests around Cairns, was listed as having a distribution that included a wide range of climate conditions, from sea level to much cooler mountain top tropical rainforests. This distribution is not typical for rainforest frogs, which are usually highly specialized.

That sent the research team to work, who spent years studying this frog and examining collections. Subsequent genetic studies revealed that the Northern Barred Frog is not one species, but three.

Of the three species one is the most specialized, and is the subject of concern for its survival. The frog, Mixophyes carbinensis (the Carbine Tableland barred frog), so far has been found only at or near the tops of the highest mountains in the Carbine Tablelands, a small area in the mountains east of Port Douglas. If further research confirms its restricted environmental range it may be very much endangered by itís specialization to higher altitudes.

Global warming has been slowly increasing temperatures in the Australian tropics for some years now. For species adapted to life on the mountaintops in this area this means that the narrow band of suitable habitat shrinks as the climate warms, with the lowermost elevation that they can survive in slowly moving upwards with the temperature. These frogs are already living on a mountaintop, so thereís no higher place to move to, and they become extinct. Usually what kills them is not the temperature, but an increased susceptibility to diseases and a gradually decreasing population and range, which make a population more subject to catastrophic events like cyclones and droughts.

Dr. Mahoney mentioned that this climate-related extinction of mountain frogs has already caused around 10 species of Australian frogs have become extinct since 1980 from climate change, including some of the new species' mountain top neighbors, such as the sharp-snouted day frog and the tinker frog. "So in the very streams where this animal is found, there are three or four species of frog that have already disappeared or become critically endangered," Dr Mahony said. If the current rate of climate change goes unchecked this species may be extinct within 50 years.

Coverage of this story from the news.com.au.

Michael Mahoney, the scientist who announced the discovery.

A radio interview with Dr. Mahony.

The discovery announcement.

Help with local frog conservation at the Cairns Frog Hospital.

(C) DiveTheReef The weekly reef report is written by Joel Groberg of DiveTheReef.com, who compiles them from the many conversations he has with dive staff in the area, as well as† many other local sources in the dive community.

Index of all reef reports.

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