Saturday, October 30, 2010

More frogs than you can shake a stick at

A good piece of advice I heard once was that a scientific paper is not, and should not be written as, a murder mystery. ie. don't wait until the last page to reveal your conclusions.  I remembered that when I saw the title of this 2009 PNAS paper on Madagascar's amphibian biodiversity: Vast underestimation of Madagascar's biodiversity evidenced by an integrative amphibian inventory.
Amphibians are in decline worldwide. However, their patterns of diversity, especially in the tropics, are not well understood, mainly because of incomplete information on taxonomy and distribution. We assess morphological, bioacoustic, and genetic variation of Madagascar's amphibians, one of the first near-complete taxon samplings from a biodiversity hotspot. Based on DNA sequences of 2,850 specimens sampled from over 170 localities, our analyses reveal an extreme proportion of amphibian diversity, projecting an almost 2-fold increase in species numbers from the currently described 244 species to a minimum of 373 and up to 465.
Our results suggest that in Madagascar the spatial pattern of amphibian richness and endemism must be revisited, and current habitat destruction may be affecting more species than previously thought, in amphibians as well as in other animal groups. This case study suggests that worldwide tropical amphibian diversity is probably underestimated at an unprecedented level and stresses the need for integrated taxonomic surveys as a basis for prioritizing conservation efforts within biodiversity hotspots.

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