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 Lost Amphibians Rediscovered

Gorilla gorilla graueri, copyright 2007 by Eli Greenbaum
Gorilla gorilla graueri, copyright 2007 by Eli Greenbaum



































































National Geographic News Website Link





Map of Eastern DR Congo

Discoveries by UTEP professor boon for biodiversity

A faculty member from The University of Texas at El Paso announced this week that he rediscovered four species of frogs during a recent African expedition, which bodes well for the planet's endangered biodiversity.

Eli Greenbaum, Ph.D., assistant professor of biological sciences, made the discoveries with African collaborators Chifundera Kusamba, Mwenebatu Aristote, and Wandege Moninga during his fifth venture to the Democratic Republic of Congo that was completed earlier this year.

The expedition, which was funded by the university, followed on the heels of an effort by the Washington, DC-based organization Conservation International to send 126 researchers into 21 countries to find over 100 amphibians that have not been seen for decades. Only fifteen "lost" species were rediscovered in that worldwide effort last year, causing alarm among scientists. 

The discoveries by Greenbaum's team have highlighted the need for conservation efforts in the remote mountains of eastern Congo. He also rediscovered a 5th species during a 2009 trip to the Congo sponsored by the National Geographic Society.  The five rediscovered species were described without photographs between 1950-1952, and with a single exception in 1954, haven't been seen since.

Recent assessments concluded 1/3 of the world’s amphibian species have become extinct or are seriously threatened with extinction, Greenbaum said, so his efforts offer a glimmer of hope.

“This is important for the sake of conservation on a global scale,” he said. “Amphibians are like the canaries in the coal mine. If they go, we’re next and they’re not doing too good.”

The professor, who specializes in evolutionary genetics, described the frogs as colorful, fragile creatures about the size of a domino.

“This is good news,” said Greenbaum, who has taught at UTEP for three years. “My team's discoveries confirm that those jungles have been poorly explored. There is a lot of biodiversity there and it’s not too late to redouble our efforts at conservation.”

In addition to the rediscoveries, the team has also identified scores of new species of frogs, lizards, chameleons and snakes.  "It's a race against time to discover as much biodiversity as possible before deforestation causes irreversible extinction," Greenbaum said.

Map showing the Itombwe Plateau and Kahuzi-Biega National Park, the sites where the 5 species of frogs were rediscovered in 2009 and 2011.  Photos of the five species appear below.
Chrysobatrachus cupreonitens, copyright 2011 by Eli Greenbaum
Arthroleptis pyrrhoscelis, copyright 2011 by Eli Greenbaum
Hyperolius sp., copyright 2010 by Eli Greenbaum
Chrysobatrachus cupreonitens:  Described in 1951

This frog has a skeleton, ecology and mating behavior that is so unique, it is the only species in this genus.  It is endemic to the highest elevations (above 2,800 meters) of the Itombwe Plateau, where it lives in flooded grasslands.
Hyperolius leucotaenius:  Described in 1950

This treefrog was rediscovered on the banks of the Elila River in the upper elevations of the Itombwe Plateau.  The skin on the dorsum of this female is so transparent that you can see her eggs.
Phrynobatrachus asper:  Described in 1951

About the size of your fist, this is a relatively large African puddle frog.  The legs have so much meat on them that this species was rediscovered in 2009 when villagers on the Itombwe Plateau offered to sell their frog dinner to the scientists!  These people led the research team to the frog's natural habitat in streams that run through pristine highland forest.
Hyperolius sp.

UPDATE:  In 2010 when this press release was made, I identified this animal as Hyperolius chrysogaster.  New DNA analyses suggest my preliminary ID was incorrect, so I have changed the ID to Hyperolius sp. until my colleagues and I figure it out.  This case underscores the taxonomic quagmire for this genus.
Arthroleptis pyrrhoscelis:  Described in 1952

About the size of your thumb's fingernail, this tiny frog is endemic to grasslands of the Itombwe Plateau around 2,000 meters elevation.  Frogs in this genus have direct development, where the eggs hatch into tiny froglets, bypassing the more typical aquatic tadpole stage.
Hyperolius leucotaenius, copyright 2011 by Eli Greenbaum
Phrynobatrachus asper, copyright 2009 by Eli Greenbaum