Madagascan Species Discovery
Madagascar's incredible biodiversity is increasingly threatened by habitat modification and deforestation. Relative to land area, Madagascar has higher vertebrate species richness and endemism than anywhere else. For this reason, Madagascar is classified as a global biodiversity hotspot, and is recognized as a high priority for conservation efforts. Among the incredible vertebrates of Madagascar, amphibians are among the most diverse. There are currently 266 described amphibians in Madagascar, with over 95% being endemic. However, a substantial quantity of herpetofaunal diversity remains undescribed (i.e. taxonomically unknown and unnamed). Many biologists were surprised by the recent suggestion that 250+ amphibian species remain undescribed in Madagascar, but recent research suggest that this number may be even higher. (http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0810821106)
Inspired this potential for so much previously unrecognized diversity, Carl R. Hutter (University of Kansas) along with collaborators Shea M. Lambert (University of Arizona) and Miguel Vences (University of Brunswick, Germany) began intensive field surveys for undescribed amphibians in 2012. Based on these field collections, Hutter et al. are using morphological, acoustic, and molecular evidence to identify and describe previously unknown amphibian species. Many of these species are micro-endemic, in that their distributions are potentially restricted to a very small area with high species turnover between sites, which is a large conservation concern for these species. In addition, they are also researching the ecological and evolutionary causes of the micro-endemism in these species.