Jun 20, 2019 | Updated: 09:31 AM EDT

What One Discovery May Mean For Conservation Efforts in Southeast Asia

Jan 02, 2015 03:57 PM EST

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Newborn Tadpole
(Photo : Researcher Jim McGuire)

As far as biodiversity and species richness are concerned, there may be no better place on the face of the Earth than in tropical rain forests. Warm and wet, these forests and jungles are productive pieces of land that not only give rise to giant, branching trees, but also offer shelter to hundreds of species just below the dense canopy.

But in reality, what may be good for nature is not always what's good for capitalism. True, these forests may be productive for the species that call it home, but with some redirected efforts by man, these productive soils could sow incredible profits for the farmers willing to put in the work. Thus began the process of deforestation.

Now, while conservation efforts have sought out to stop this practice that ruins tropical ecosystems, many have failed as national and international agencies refuse to step in unless something else causes a pressing concern. And in that hope, the forests of Indonesian island Sulawesi may soon find their deforestation coming to a close; all thanks to strange-breeding frog species.

While most amphibians, in fact nearly every species known to man, are individuals that lay clutches of eggs, one new frog species revealed that they are of a more nurturing variety, much akin to humans and other mammals. 

The new species described in this week's issue of the journal PLOS ONE, is a species of fanged frog indigenous to the Sulawesi Island of Indonesia. Known as Limnonectes larvaepartus, the newly described frog species revealed to researchers, who tracked them down for the better part of a decade, that not only are they capable of internal fertilization but also that they give live birth to tadpoles. While nearly a dozen other species of internal fertilizers within the world of frogs, who either deposit fertilized eggs or give birth to froglets, these fanged frogs are the first to ever give birth to developing tadpoles in the middle of both development stages.

"This new frog is one of only 10 or 12 species that has evolved internal fertilization, and of those, it is the only one that gives birth to tadpoles, as opposed to froglets or laying fertilized eggs" lead researcher of the study and ecologist at the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Jim McGuire says. " [However] because we have not witnessed natural birth of tadpoles in free-living frogs, two possible alternative reproductive modes are possible for this species. Limnonectes larvaepartus reproduction may simply reflect what we have observed in the hand- direct birth of tadpoles. Alternatively, this species may be capable of retaining developing young in the oviducts through metamorphosis with subsequent birth of froglets. [But] the latter mode seems unlikely for several reasons."

As most of Sulawesi's forest is currently gone, courtesy of some of the highest deforestation rates in the world, researchers are hopeful that they may be able to learn a lot about this species just in the nick of time. And since they may be unique unto this region of the world alone, conservationists are also hopeful that this discovery may lead to some changes in the deforestation practices displacing and decimating species in its path.

"These kind of findings are really valuable, especially in Salwesi where most of the forest is gone" lead herpetology researcher at the Zoological Society of London, not involved in the study, Ben Tapley says. "It's great that we're learning about these species before it's too late."

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