The thumbnail-sized species was discovered in India’s
WesternGhats, one of the world’s “hottest” biodiversity hotspots. Scientists have named the frog Astrobatrachus kurichiyanafor its constellation-like markings and the indigenous people of Kurichiyarmala, the hill range where it was found.
kurichiyanais not only a new species to science. It’s the sole member of an ancient lineage, a long branch on the frog tree of life that researchers have classified as a new subfamily, Astrobatrachinae.
“This is an oddball frog—it has no close sister species for maybe tens of millions of years,” said David Blackburn, the associate curator of herpetology at the Florida Museum of Natural History. “With frogs, there are still ancient lineages out there awaiting discovery. This gives us one more puzzle piece to think about deep time.” Natalie Van Hoose, “Meet India’s starry dwarf frog,
lonemember of newly discovered ancient lineage” at Phys.org
The researchers were pretty surprised:
“I had no clue I was holding onto a 50-million-year-old lineage,” Vijayakumar says. The researchers say the frog represents not just a new species and genus, but possibly even a new family, which they are working to confirm through genetic analysis and anatomical comparisons. “It’s a unique, old lineage without any close relatives” known to science, he says. Jeremy Rehm, “Meet India’s starry dwarf frog — a species with no close relatives” at ScienceNews
At one point, one of them seems to forget thepoint of the story:
Scientists have found many ancient lineages of frogs in the Western Ghats, whose biodiversity stems from its history and distinct geography. India, once part of Africa, split from Madagascar about 89 million years ago and drifted northeast, eventually colliding with the Asian mainland and giving rise to the Himalayas. But its long isolation as an island provided fertile ground for the evolution of new life forms and may have sheltered species that disappeared elsewhere. This is especially true of the Western Ghats, which is much like a network of islands, Vijayakumar said. The elevated region has been cross-sectioned into separate hill ranges by millions of years of erosion and climatic changes.
“It’s a perfect scenario for cooking up new species,” he said. Natalie Van Hoose, “Meet India’s starry dwarf frog, lone member of newly discovered ancient lineage” at Phys.org
What? Wait! This isn’t a “new species.” This is a holdover from 50 million years ago, during which time it has always been an obvious frog. If we wanted to demonstrate “cooking up new species,” we’d best not make this frog Exhibit A.
Won’t more genome mapping turn up more of these oddities? It’s one thing if very unusual things happen now and then. But if they are happening a lot, our model may need some revisions or it’s going to be biology’s version of Ptolemy’s astronomy plodding through the 21st century. That is, you can sort of make it work, but…
But what is a “species” anyway?
Follow UD News at Twitter!
See also: A physicist looks at biology’s problem of “speciation” in humans
Stasis: Life goes on but evolution does not happen