Rare frogs and the circle of life

The new insights on the life stages of a species of dancing frog in the Western Ghats reported in the journal PLoS One serve as a reminder, if any were needed, that key features of the rainforests are vital to the survival of less-known species. As a biodiversity-rich mountainous realm of plants and animals, many of which are endemic to the region, the Western Ghats are an acknowledged hotspot. What the research on the tadpoles of the dancing frog Micrixalus herrei reveals is that such animals can complete their life cycle only if critical features of the natural landscape are preserved, and human pressure on habitats is consciously reduced. Specifically in the case of the Indian dancing frog, the availability of shallow streams with sandy depressions enables the laying of eggs and development of tadpoles, that then spend some time under the sand. Such invisible phases of the life cycle of species are often not widely known or discussed, and therefore may not find a place in rapid environment impact assessments when a project is proposed. In fact, the range of such frogs revealed by newer methods such as DNA bar coding has not been sufficiently documented, as scientists from the University of Delhi, the University of Peradeniya and the Gettysburg College in the United States who studied the dancing frog point out. It is therefore vital that the habitat of amphibians in the Western Ghats, a unique part of the world that has landscapes ranging from scrub to evergreen forests, be given utmost protection as scientists document its richness.

If amphibians are considered indicators of the health of ecosystems, their fate around the world is cause for worry. Of about 7,300 known species, a third are threatened and their populations are declining owing to habitat destruction, chemical pollution, climate change, disease and invasive species, among other factors. In the Western Ghats the threat level is high for an estimated 40 per cent of amphibian species, even as more are being discovered. Deficiency of data for a third of the frogs and related species here highlights the need for continuous and intensive research. In the case of the ancient purple frog from the same region, which surprised the world with its unusual appearance, colour and small size when it was described a dozen years ago, there is a persistent threat in the form of excessive hunting of tadpoles by tribals for food. Fortunately, the efforts of scientists to explain the uniqueness of such animals is beginning to yield results, and tribal communities are willing to consider alternatives to mass capture during the breeding seasons. It is this rich diversity that the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel led by Madhav Gadgil recognised, and sought, correctly, to protect from unsustainable human pressures. Frogs may not have the charismatic stature of many bigger animals, but often they are the keystones that hold together the arch of life represented by several diverse animals.

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Printable version | May 18, 2022 12:39:38 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Rare-frogs-and-the-circle-of-life/article59784437.ece