WASHINGTON - Researchers have rediscovered frog species including one last seen in India more than a century ago, potentially offering clues on why they have survived a global crisis killing amphibians.
But in a five-continent study released Thursday, conservationists largely had bleak news. Of 10 species at the top of a list of missing amphibians, only one -- a harlequin toad in Ecuador -- was found again.
Scientists estimate that more than 30 percent of amphibians are facing extinction due to a mysterious fungus that has spread around the world over the past decade, along with pressure from loss of habitat and climate change.
Robin Moore, an amphibian expert at Conservation International, said that scientists would closely examine how the rediscovered species survived.
"It may be that the survivors are somehow resilient to this disease that's wiped out a lot of species, whether it's a genetic resistance or whether they have some sort of beneficial bacteria to fight the disease," Moore told AFP.
"It indicates that there are differences and some species are able to hang on. It's provided us with more lines of research."
The study, led by Conservation International and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, involved five months of expeditions across 21 countries.
In India, researchers found five species in the biologically diverse Western Ghats region. One of them, the florescent Chalazodes Bubble-nest Frog, had last been seen in 1874.
S.D. Biju of the University of Delhi said he was "so excited" when he first laid eyes on the frog, which is believed to live by day inside reeds.
"I have never seen a frog with such brilliant colors in my 25 years of research," Biju said in a statement.
In Ecuador, researchers found evidence of a harlequin toad, known as the Rio Pescado stubfoot toad, for the first time since 1995. But scientists feared for the future of the species, saying it was confined to four unprotected places in the Pacific lowlands.
Besides their aesthetic and cultural value, amphibians play a key role in the ecosystem by eating insects that would damage crops.
"We've found in communities in Central America that when you lose the amphibians, you have a decline in water quality, increased algal blooms and sedimentation," Moore said.
Amphibians also offer a link between the aquatic and terrestrial life and are a source of food for mammals, reptiles and birds.
"There are many knock-on impacts that we can't really be sure about unless it happens. And I'd rather not find out the hard way," Moore said.
Scientists also found six frog species in Haiti that had not been seen for nearly 20 years. In September last year, the conservationists announced the rediscovery of two species of African frog and a Mexican salamander.
Image: Brian Gratwickle / via Flickr