Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Western Ghats


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


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


Tadpoles of the monotypic Indian dancing frog family Micrixalidae have remained obscure for over 125 years. Here we report the discovery of the elusive tadpoles of Micrixalus herrei from the sand beds of a forested stream in southern Western Ghats, and confirm their identity through DNA barcoding. These actively burrowing tadpoles lead an entirely fossorial life from eggs to late metamorphic stages. We describe their internal and external morphological characters while highlighting the following features: eel-like appearance, extensively muscularized body and tail, reduced tail fins, skin-covered eyes, delayed development of eye pigmentation in early pre-metamorphic stages (Gosner stages 25-29), prominent tubular sinistral spiracle, large transverse processes on vertebrae II and III, ankylosed ribs on transverse processes of vertebra II, notochord terminating before the atlantal cotyle-occipital condyle junction, absence of keratodonts, serrated well-formed jaw sheaths, and extensive calcified endolymphatic sacs reaching sacrum posteriorly. The tadpole gut contains mostly fine sediments and sand. We discuss the eel-like morphology and feeding habits of M. herrei in the context of convergence with other well-known fossorial tadpoles. This discovery builds the knowledge base for further comparative analyses and conservation of Micrixalus, an ancient and endemic lineage of Indian frogs.

Concepts: Eye, Vertebra, Vertebrate, Frog, Tadpole, Western Ghats, Notochord, Labyrinthodontia


Coffee is a major tropical commodity crop that can provide supplementary habitat for native wildlife. In Asia, coffee production is an increasingly important driver of landscape transformation and shifts between different coffee species is a major dimension of agroforestry trends. Yet few studies have compared the ecological impacts of conversion between different coffee species. We evaluated whether or not the two species of coffee grown globally-Coffea arabica and C. canephora (denoted “robusta”)-had equivalent avian conservation value in the Western Ghats, India, where robusta production has become increasingly dominant. We found that habitat specialist and functional guild diversity was higher in arabica, and that arabica was more profitable. However, robusta farms generally supported the same or slightly higher abundances of habitat specialists and functional guilds, largely due to dense canopy and landscape-level forest cover. Farming practices, chiefly pesticide use, may affect the suitability of coffee agroforests as habitat for avian specialists, and at present, robusta farmers tended to use less pesticide. Given future projections for arabica to robusta conversion in tropical Asia, our study indicates that certification efforts should prioritize maintaining native canopy shade trees and forest cover to ensure that coffee landscapes can continue providing biodiversity benefits.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Agriculture, Coffee, India, Western Ghats, Coffea arabica, Cash crop


Urban land-cover change threatens biodiversity and affects ecosystem productivity through loss of habitat, biomass, and carbon storage. However, despite projections that world urban populations will increase to nearly 5 billion by 2030, little is known about future locations, magnitudes, and rates of urban expansion. Here we develop spatially explicit probabilistic forecasts of global urban land-cover change and explore the direct impacts on biodiversity hotspots and tropical carbon biomass. If current trends in population density continue and all areas with high probabilities of urban expansion undergo change, then by 2030, urban land cover will increase by 1.2 million km(2), nearly tripling the global urban land area circa 2000. This increase would result in considerable loss of habitats in key biodiversity hotspots, with the highest rates of forecasted urban growth to take place in regions that were relatively undisturbed by urban development in 2000: the Eastern Afromontane, the Guinean Forests of West Africa, and the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka hotspots. Within the pan-tropics, loss in vegetation biomass from areas with high probability of urban expansion is estimated to be 1.38 PgC (0.05 PgC yr(-1)), equal to ∼5% of emissions from tropical deforestation and land-use change. Although urbanization is often considered a local issue, the aggregate global impacts of projected urban expansion will require significant policy changes to affect future growth trajectories to minimize global biodiversity and vegetation carbon losses.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Urban area, Probability, Sustainability, Western Ghats, Biodiversity hotspots, Deforestation, Biodiversity hotspot


Between-group encounters are an obvious outcome of intergroup competition. Between-group encounters in primates range from avoidance to fatally aggressive. The prevailing hypotheses explain such encounters as mate defense strategy by males and resource defense strategy by females. However, the rate and nature of between-group encounters may also be influenced by habitat and demographic characteristics. We studied the effect of forest fragment size on group encounters in lion-tailed macaques in the Western Ghats of southern India. The encounter rate decreased as the fragment size increased. Group density and home range overlap correlated positively with the encounter rate. The aggressive encounters were more in the relatively medium-sized fragment where the observed frequency of between-group encounters was higher than the expected frequency than in the small fragment and the large forest complex. Together, these results indicate a complex pattern of effects of fragment size on between-group encounters in primates.

Concepts: Macaque, Frequency, India, Tamil Nadu, South India, Western Ghats, Lion-tailed Macaque, Silent Valley National Park


Male takeover and infanticide are a widespread phenomenon among non-human primates, observed mostly in species with a relatively longer lactation in relation to gestation. In this study, we report for the first time an episode of male takeover and infanticide, and the rarely reported occurrence of an all-male band and female dispersal, in Nilgiri langurs, Semnopithecus johnii, in the Western Ghats, India. The new male was a member of an all-male band. After the takeover, the resident male and 3 juvenile males left the group and joined the all-male band. A female whose infant was killed was found missing after some days. There were significant changes in the patterns of social interactions among the resident group females soon after the male takeover, wherein the females spent less time on social interactions as compared to before and after the episode of takeover. The new male rarely interacted with the females soon after the takeover. We also observed that the resident group shifted its home range to a poorer quality habitat. © 2014 S. Karger AG, Basel.

Concepts: Human, Male, Reproduction, Female, Sociology, Primate, Tamil Nadu, Western Ghats


A long-standing view of Indian biodiversity is that while rich in species, there are few endemics or in-situ radiations within the subcontinent. One exception is the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot, an isolated mountain range with many endemic species. Understanding the origins of the montane-restricted species is crucial to illuminate both taxonomic and environmental history.

Concepts: Biodiversity, India, Indian subcontinent, Australia, Madagascar, Western Ghats, Biodiversity hotspot, South Western Ghats montane rain forests


The importance of patch quality for amphibians is frequently overlooked in distribution models. Here we demonstrate that it is highly important for the persistence of endemic and endangered amphibians found in the threatened and fragile ecosystems that are the rocky plateaus in Western Maharashtra, India. These plateaus are ferricretes of laterite and characterise the northern section of the Western Ghats/Sri Lanka Biodiversity Hotspot, the eighth most important global hotspot and one of the three most threatened by population growth. We present statistically supported habitat associations for endangered and data-deficient Indian amphibians, demonstrating significant relationships between individual species and their microhabitats. Data were collected during early monsoon across two seasons. Twenty-one amphibian taxa were identified from 14 lateritic plateaus between 67 and 1179m above sea level. Twelve of the study taxa had significant associations with microhabitats using a stepwise analysis of the AICc subroutine (distLM, Primer-e, v7). Generalist taxa were associated with increased numbers of microhabitat types. Non-significant associations are reported for the remaining 9 taxa. Microhabitat distribution was spatially structured and driven by climate and human activity. Woody plants were associated with 44% of high-elevation taxa. Of the 8 low-elevation taxa 63% related to water bodies and 60% of those were associated with pools. Rock size and abundance were important for 33% of high elevation specialists. Three of the 4 caecilians were associated with rocks in addition to soil and stream presence. We conclude the plateaus are individualistic patches whose habitat quality is defined by their microhabitats within climatic zones.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Species, Climate, India, Monsoon, Amphibian, Western Ghats, Maharashtra


Tropical montane habitats, grasslands, in particular, merit urgent conservation attention owing to the disproportionate levels of endemic biodiversity they harbour, the ecosystem services they provide, and the fact that they are among the most threatened habitats globally. The Shola Sky Islands in the Western Ghats host a matrix of native forest-grassland matrix that has been planted over the last century, with exotic timber plantations. The popular discourse on the landscape change is that mainly forests have been lost to the timber plantations and recent court directives are to restore Shola forest trees. In this study, we examine spatiotemporal patterns of landscape change over the last 40 years in the Palani Hills, a significant part of the montane habitat in the Western Ghats. Using satellite imagery and field surveys, we find that 66% of native grasslands and 31% of native forests have been lost over the last 40 years. Grasslands have gone from being the dominant, most contiguous land cover to one of the rarest and most fragmented. They have been replaced by timber plantations and, to a lesser extent, expanding agriculture. We find that the spatial pattern of grassland loss to plantations differs from the loss to agriculture, likely driven by the invasion of plantation species into grasslands. We identify remnant grasslands that should be prioritised for conservation and make specific recommendations for conservation and restoration of grasslands in light of current management policy in the Palani Hills, which favours large-scale removal of plantations and emphasises the restoration of native forests.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Ecosystem, Forest, Europe, Grassland, Montane grasslands and shrublands, Western Ghats, Savanna