Last week, on the 30th of July, in a press release from the University of California, Berkeley, Amphibiaweb announced a milestone: the catalogue of amphibians has welcomed its 7000th member. The discovery of a small Amazonian glass frog (Centrolene sabini) inPeru meant that since the creation of Amphibiaweb some 25 years ago the total number of known amphibian species has increased spectacularly from 4000 to 7000 species. In average, that comes down to a staggering one new species per two and a halve day .
Amphiaweb started in 2000 as a class project and ever since has gained in popularity resulting in nowadays 15000-20000 queries a day mostly from scientists. The website provides a catalogue of all the amphibians known to science with an abundance of information and photos as well as audiofiles with frog calls. To people interested in amphibians it is a haven of knowledge, because as its founder, David Wake, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley says: “We are the place for accurate, vetted information on amphibians”.
Even though there has been such a high pace of new discoveries in the past, there still doesn’t seem to be a slowing down of them, demonstrated by a 100 new species that have been described in the first seven months, which is actually more than the average. However, Wake notes that most of the species that have been recently described for the first time are only known from one small population and still remain to be evaluated carefully. Moreover the species known from one population often suffer pressures from human activities.
The large number of new species that have been found in the past 25 years can be attributed to several factors. The increase in threats to the survival of amphibians, like a warming Earth, increasing population, widespread use of pesticides and a deadly fungus a, has also raised the interest in these animals. Nowadays there are a lot more scientists that dedicate themselves to the cause of amphibian conservation. And as well, there are more and more scientists working in developing countries where, generally speaking, biodiversity and thus also diversity of amphibians is the highest.South Asiafor instance is nowadays the hotspot for amphibian discoveries. “South and tropicalIndiais a veritable wonderland of new species of frogs, which is a surprise,” Wake said, “because we assumed the British did a thorough job (of describing species). Now, we have a thriving Indian amphibian community” exploring the area. Together withIndia,Peru,Brazil,ChinaandPapua New Guineaare the leading countries when it comes to discovery of new species. To me this is no surprise; in the case ofPapua New Guinea, the BBC documentary which followed scientist on their exploration of a remote area aroundmountBosavi, showed the discovery of many new species, including frogs. This island offers a treasure of natural wealth that still needs to be dug up.
The amazing high rate of new discoveries over the past 25 years and the cause of celebration for discovering the 7000th species, illustrates that it is not all ‘doom and gloom’ when it comes to amphibians, according to Wake. He was one of the first to raise the alarm about declining amphibian populations, but he states: “In many parts of the world, amphibians are doing very well, and there are certainly many yet to be discovered”. But when writing about amphibians we cannot go past the fact that the IUCN has proclaimed amphibians as the most threatened taxon, with around 41% of species at risk of extinction and with more than 150 species known to have gone extinct since the early 1980s. Fortunately , with the increasing effort that scientists are putting in, we are getting to know more and more about amphibians, thereby ameliorating their chances for survival.