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Concept: Amphibian


The Night Frog genus Nyctibatrachus (Family Nyctibatrachidae) represents an endemic anuran lineage of the Western Ghats Biodiversity Hotspot, India. Until now, it included 28 recognised species, of which more than half were described recently over the last five years. Our amphibian explorations have further revealed the presence of undescribed species of Nights Frogs in the southern Western Ghats. Based on integrated molecular, morphological and bioacoustic evidence, seven new species are formally described here as Nyctibatrachus athirappillyensis sp. nov., Nyctibatrachus manalari sp. nov., Nyctibatrachus pulivijayani sp. nov., Nyctibatrachus radcliffei sp. nov., Nyctibatrachus robinmoorei sp. nov., Nyctibatrachus sabarimalai sp. nov. and Nyctibatrachus webilla sp. nov., thereby bringing the total number of valid Nyctibatrachus species to 35 and increasing the former diversity estimates by a quarter. Detailed morphological descriptions, comparisons with other members of the genus, natural history notes, and genetic relationships inferred from phylogenetic analyses of a mitochondrial dataset are presented for all the new species. Additionally, characteristics of male advertisement calls are described for four new and three previously known species. Among the new species, six are currently known to be geographically restricted to low and mid elevation regions south of Palghat gap in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and one is probably endemic to high-elevation mountain streams slightly northward of the gap in Tamil Nadu. Interestingly, four new species are also among the smallest known Indian frogs. Hence, our discovery of several new species, particularly of easily overlooked miniaturized forms, reiterates that the known amphibian diversity of the Western Ghats of India still remains underestimated.

Concepts: Biodiversity, India, Tamil Nadu, Amphibian, Frog, Western Ghats, Kerala


Frogs (Anura) are one of the most diverse groups of vertebrates and comprise nearly 90% of living amphibian species. Their worldwide distribution and diverse biology make them well-suited for assessing fundamental questions in evolution, ecology, and conservation. However, despite their scientific importance, the evolutionary history and tempo of frog diversification remain poorly understood. By using a molecular dataset of unprecedented size, including 88-kb characters from 95 nuclear genes of 156 frog species, in conjunction with 20 fossil-based calibrations, our analyses result in the most strongly supported phylogeny of all major frog lineages and provide a timescale of frog evolution that suggests much younger divergence times than suggested by earlier studies. Unexpectedly, our divergence-time analyses show that three species-rich clades (Hyloidea, Microhylidae, and Natatanura), which together comprise ∼88% of extant anuran species, simultaneously underwent rapid diversification at the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary (KPB). Moreover, anuran families and subfamilies containing arboreal species originated near or after the KPB. These results suggest that the K-Pg mass extinction may have triggered explosive radiations of frogs by creating new ecological opportunities. This phylogeny also reveals relationships such as Microhylidae being sister to all other ranoid frogs and African continental lineages of Natatanura forming a clade that is sister to a clade of Eurasian, Indian, Melanesian, and Malagasy lineages. Biogeographical analyses suggest that the ancestral area of modern frogs was Africa, and their current distribution is largely associated with the breakup of Pangaea and subsequent Gondwanan fragmentation.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Species, Bird, Extinction, Amphibian, Frog


Amphibians, a class of animals in global decline, are present in agricultural landscapes characterized by agrochemical inputs. Effects of pesticides on terrestrial life stages of amphibians such as juvenile and adult frogs, toads and newts are little understood and a specific risk assessment for pesticide exposure, mandatory for other vertebrate groups, is currently not conducted. We studied the effects of seven pesticide products on juvenile European common frogs (Rana temporaria) in an agricultural overspray scenario. Mortality ranged from 100% after one hour to 40% after seven days at the recommended label rate of currently registered products. The demonstrated toxicity is alarming and a large-scale negative effect of terrestrial pesticide exposure on amphibian populations seems likely. Terrestrial pesticide exposure might be underestimated as a driver of their decline calling for more attention in conservation efforts and the risk assessment procedures in place do not protect this vanishing animal group.

Concepts: Species, Animal, Pesticide, Tetrapod, Risk assessment, Amphibian, Frog, Toad


Salamanders are the only tetrapods capable of fully regenerating their limbs throughout their entire lives. Much data on the underlying molecular mechanisms of limb regeneration have been gathered in recent years allowing for new comparative studies between salamanders and other tetrapods that lack this unique regenerative potential. By contrast, the evolution of animal regeneration just recently shifted back into focus, despite being highly relevant for research designs aiming to unravel the factors allowing for limb regeneration. We show that the 300-million-year-old temnospondyl amphibian Micromelerpeton, a distant relative of modern amphibians, was already capable of regenerating its limbs. A number of exceptionally well-preserved specimens from fossil deposits show a unique pattern and combination of abnormalities in their limbs that is distinctive of irregular regenerative activity in modern salamanders and does not occur as variants of normal limb development. This demonstrates that the capacity to regenerate limbs is not a derived feature of modern salamanders, but may be an ancient feature of non-amniote tetrapods and possibly even shared by all bony fish. The finding provides a new framework for understanding the evolution of regenerative capacity of paired appendages in vertebrates in the search for conserved versus derived molecular mechanisms of limb regeneration.

Concepts: Developmental biology, Regeneration, Tetrapod, Amphibian, Lissamphibia, Salamander, Labyrinthodontia


The oldest and largest member of giant salamanders (Cryptobranchidae) Aviturus exsecratus appears in the latest Paleocene (near the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum) of Mongolia. Based on femoral and vertebral morphology and metrics, a terrestrial adaptation has been supposed for this species.

Concepts: Amphibian, Chinese giant salamander, Salamanders, Salamander


Quantitative descriptions of animal vocalizations can inform an understanding of their evolutionary functions, the mechanisms for their production and perception, and their potential utility in taxonomy, population monitoring, and conservation. The goal of this study was to provide the first acoustical and statistical analysis of the advertisement calls of Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis. Commonly known as the Indian purple frog, N. sahyadrensis is an endangered species endemic to the Western Ghats of India. As the only known species in its family (Nasikabatrachidae), it has ancient evolutionary ties to frogs restricted to the Seychelles archipelago (Sooglossidae). The role of vocalizations in the behavior of this unique species poses interesting questions, as the animal is fossorial and potentially earless and it breeds explosively above the soil for only about two weeks a year. In this study, we quantified 19 acoustic properties of 208 calls recorded from 10 males. Vocalizations were organized into distinct call groups typically composed of two to six short (59 ms), pulsatile calls, each consisting of about five to seven pulses produced at a rate of about 106 pulses/s. The frequency content of the call consisted of a single dominant peak between 1200-1300 Hz and there was no frequency modulation. The patterns of variation within and among individuals were typical of those seen in other frogs. Few of the properties we measured were related to temperature, body size, or condition, though there was little variation in temperature. Field observations and recordings of captive individuals indicated that males engaged in both antiphonal calling and call overlap with nearby calling neighbors. We discuss our findings in relation to previous work on vocal behavior in other fossorial frogs and in sooglossid frogs.

Concepts: Biodiversity, India, Purple, Amphibian, Western Ghats, Seychelles, Living fossil, Purple frog


IN RESOLVING THE VERTEBRATE TREE OF LIFE, TWO FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS REMAIN: 1) what is the phylogenetic position of turtles within amniotes, and 2) what are the relationships between the three major lissamphibian (extant amphibian) groups? These relationships have historically been difficult to resolve, with five different hypotheses proposed for turtle placement, and four proposed branching patterns within Lissamphibia. We compiled a large cDNA/EST dataset for vertebrates (75 genes for 129 taxa) to address these outstanding questions. Gene-specific phylogenetic analyses revealed a great deal of variation in preferred topology, resulting in topologically ambiguous conclusions from the combined dataset. Due to consistent preferences for the same divergent topologies across genes, we suspected systematic phylogenetic error as a cause of some variation. Accordingly, we developed and tested a novel statistical method that identifies sites that have a high probability of containing biased signal for a specific phylogenetic relationship. After removing putatively biased sites, support emerged for a sister relationship between turtles and either crocodilians or archosaurs, as well as for a caecilian-salamander sister relationship within Lissamphibia, with Lissamphibia potentially paraphyletic.

Concepts: Evolution, Species, Reptile, Phylogenetics, Cladistics, Tetrapod, Amphibian, Amniote


A major cause of amphibian declines worldwide is habitat destruction or alteration. Public green spaces, such as golf courses and parks, could serve as safe havens to curb the effects of habitat loss if managed in ways to bolster local amphibian communities. We reared larval Blanchard’s cricket frogs (Acris blanchardi) and green frogs (Rana clamitans) in golf course ponds with and without 1 m terrestrial buffer zones, and released marked cricket frog metamorphs at the golf course ponds they were reared in. Larval survival of both species was affected by the presence of a buffer zone, with increased survival for cricket frogs and decreased survival for green frogs when reared in ponds with buffer zones. No marked cricket frog juveniles were recovered at any golf course pond in the following year, suggesting that most animals died or migrated. In a separate study, we released cricket frogs in a terrestrial pen and allowed them to choose between mown and unmown grass. Cricket frogs had a greater probability of using unmown versus mown grass. Our results suggest that incorporating buffer zones around ponds can offer suitable habitat for some amphibian species and can improve the quality of the aquatic environment for some sensitive local amphibians.

Concepts: Amphibian, Frog, Metamorphosis, Frogs, Decline in amphibian populations


Phenotypic differences among species may evolve through genetic accommodation, but mechanisms accounting for this process are poorly understood. Here we compare hormonal variation underlying differences in the timing of metamorphosis among three spadefoot toads with different larval periods and responsiveness to pond drying. We find that, in response to pond drying, Pelobates cultripes and Spea multiplicata accelerate metamorphosis, increase standard metabolic rate (SMR), and elevate whole-body content of thyroid hormone (the primary morphogen controlling metamorphosis) and corticosterone (a stress hormone acting synergistically with thyroid hormone to accelerate metamorphosis). In contrast, Scaphiopus couchii has the shortest larval period, highest whole-body thyroid hormone and corticosterone content, and highest SMR, and these trait values are least affected by pond drying among the three species. Our findings support that the atypically rapid and canalized development of S. couchii evolved by genetic accommodation of endocrine pathways controlling metamorphosis, showing how phenotypic plasticity within species may evolve into trait variation among species.

Concepts: Evolution, Metabolism, Endocrinology, Thyroid, Thyroid hormone, Adrenal cortex, Amphibian, Toads


Of the nearly 6,800 extant frog species, most have weak jaws that play only a minor role in prey capture. South American horned frogs (Ceratophrys) are a notable exception. Aggressive and able to consume vertebrates their own size, these “hopping heads” use a vice-like grip of their jaws to restrain and immobilize prey. Using a longitudinal experimental design, we quantified the ontogenetic profile of bite-force performance in post-metamorphic Ceratophrys cranwelli. Regression slopes indicate positive allometric scaling of bite force with reference to head and body size, results that concur with scaling patterns across a diversity of taxa, including fish and amniotes (lizards, tuatara, turtles, crocodylians, rodents). Our recovered scaling relationship suggests that exceptionally large individuals of a congener (C. aurita) and extinct giant frogs (Beelzebufo ampinga, Late Cretaceous of Madagascar) probably could bite with forces of 500 to 2200 N, comparable to medium to large-sized mammalian carnivores.

Concepts: Reptile, Mammal, Cretaceous, Tetrapod, Amphibian, Frog, Dinosaur, Amniote