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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Two new frog species discovered in Leyte

Two new frog species —so new that they still have yet to be named— were found hopping in the forests of Southern Leyte, conservationists announced on Tuesday.

Officials of the Fauna and Flora International (FFI), German development agency GIZ, the National Museum, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources yesterday said the two previously undiscovered frog species were found in Mount Nacolod mountain range in the eastern Visayan province of Southern Leyte last year.

The two newly-discovered species belong to the genus Platymantis. These species inhabit the montane and mossy forests of the Nacolod region. Both species are markedly different from other known species of genus Platymantis found in the Philippines.

They have different body sizes, coloration patterns, and mating calls compared with the known frog species in the country.

“This is the first time that a Platymantis species belonging to the hazelae group has been found in Mindanao faunal region, of which the island of Leyte belongs to,” GIZ said.

“It is anticipated that a significant number of species will be recorded from Southern Leyte with continued field sampling, especially if the surveys are conducted during the drier months of the year and if a wide range of habitat and elevation zones (from lowland Dipterocarp to mossy forests) are sampled,” GIZ added.

On trees and in the ground

One of the frogs was found on a tree branch, while the other was found in the ground, FFI said. The frogs do not have formal names yet.

FFI suggested that one of the frogs be named Platymantis reddorum after the REDD project, while the other species was proposed to be called Platymantis sodhi in commemoration of conservation scientist Navjot Sodhi, who was involved in the project and who recently passed away.

FFI country director Neil Aldrin Mallari said said Filipino and American herpetologists are currently working on the formal taxonomic description of the species.

The survey of the Southern Leyte forest was part of the REDD program in the Philippines. REDD is an initiative funded by the German government in the Philippines to rehabilitate the country's forests and protect the current green cover in a bid to reduce carbon emissions.

Aside from the new amphibians, the Mount Nacolod assessment also recorded 229 flora species, 31 of it are only found in the Philippines.

The survey team recorded 212 vertebrates, which included 112 birds, 36 mammals and 64 amphibians and reptiles. FFI said most of these animals are endangered.

“Despite its infamous reputation of having highly fragmented and degraded forests, this impressive list of fauna and flora demonstrates the under-appreciated biodiversity of the Philippines,” GIZ said.

Mallari hailed the discovery of the new amphibians showed the Philippines' rich wildlife. “It is such a rich country. Many of us still underestimate it,” he said.

Resiliency and the 'Romeo Error'

The discovery of the new species has prevented scientists from committing a so-called "Romeo Error" —a Shakespearean reference to the fallacy of presumption without conclusive evidence.

The two new species are testaments to wildlife's resiliency, Mallari said, adding that even more new species might be “just under our noses.”

For his part, Southern Leyte Governor Damian Mercado thanked the German Embassy and FFI in choosing his province as the project site.

“The Southern Leyte local government fully supports and commits to protect and conserve its forest and biodiversity,” he said.

80% of PHL forests are degraded —expert

Dr. Bernd-Markus Liss, principal advisor for GIZ's forest policy, said the revelation of new species in Southern Leyte underscored the need to protect the forests of the Philippines, a key biodiversity center in the global map. At present, about 80% of the country's forests are degraded.

“By destroying forests, we are also destroying habitats. Who knows what's out there?” he said, noting that new species could help in developing new substances, medicines, and materials.

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