New Species of Frogs Discovered in the Philippine Forest of Southern Leyte - A Critical Biodiversity Area

frog1frog2Two new species of frogs belonging to the genus Platymantis were discovered specifically inhabiting the montane and mossy forests of the Nacolod Mountain Range in Southern Leyte.  Both species differ markedly from other known species of Philippine Platymantis frogs by their body size, coloration patterns, and advertisement calls. The two species are allied to two different species groups, the Platymantisguentheri Group and Platymantishazelae Group. This is the first time that a Platymantis species belonging to the hazelae group has been discovered in Mindanao faunal region, of which the island of Leyte belongs to.

The discovery of the two new frog species was a result of the biodiversity resource assessment conducted in Southern Leyte by the Fauna and Flora International in November 2011.  The month-long ground surveys in Southern Leyte Province (covering the municipalities of Silago, Hinunangan, Sogod, Maasin, Tomas Oppus and Malitbog) recorded a total of 229 floral species (31 of which are unique to the Philippines) and 212 terrestrial vertebrates species, comprising 112 species of birds (41 species are unique to Philippines; 11 of which are threatened to extinction), 36 species of mammals (17 species are unique to the Philippines) and 64 species of amphibians and reptiles (more than half of whichare found only in the Philippines).

Herpetologists from the Philippines and the United States are now working on the formal taxonomic description of the species.

While the highlight of the assessment is the discovery of the new frog species, it also generated a detailed documentation of new and important information on the ecology and natural history of many species of vertebrates that are endemic to Leyte.

The biodiversity assessments were conducted by Fauna and FIora International, the National Museum of the Philippines on behalf of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), through its projects, namely the Climate Relevant Modernization of Forest Policy and Piloting of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) in the Philippines Project being implemented by the German International  Cooperation (GIZ);  the New Conservation Areas in the Philippines Project (NewCAPP),   the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

The study was aimed at generating species inventories and practical information on key species-habitat associations as sound bases for forest and biodiversity management planning.

The assessment indicated the general preference of Southern Leyte’s fauna to forest and riverine environments. The information generated, serves as a baseline that can be used to predict impacts of habitat change on species and to design measures to protect forest biodiversity. For local government units in Southern Leyte, the findings provide the scientific basis in designing appropriate management systems and monitoring protocols useful in protecting forest ecosystems, establishing local forest and biodiversity areas as well as to steer the rehabilitation of forests towards an efficient and more ecologically sound path. For the national Government it will spur forest protection and rehabilitation efforts under the Philippine National REDD-Plus Strategy as part of the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAPP), and the National Greening Program.

Despite its infamous reputation of having highly fragmented and degraded forests, this impressive list of fauna and flora demonstrates the underappreciated biodiversity of the Philippines. (with reports from NewCAPP).

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