New Delhi: Scientists, led by Delhi University’s S.D. Biju, have discovered 14 new species of dancing frogs in the forests of Western Ghats, according to a paper published in the latest issue of the Ceylon Journal of Science, a peer-reviewed journal of biological sciences.

Only 11 species were recognized in this family previously. These frogs have been given this name as the males of this frog family exhibit a behaviour scientists call foot-flagging, where they lift up their feet and display the colourful soles of their feet to potential partners.

The other scientists in the group are Sonali Garg from Delhi University, K.V. Gururaja from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and Yogesh Shouche, Sandeep A. W. from National Centre for Cell Science, Pune. The discoveries are a result of field studies conducted across the mountains of Western Ghats, covering Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra over the past 12 years.

The new species were identified using molecular markers. According to the paper, this group of frogs evolved approximately 85 million years ago, and is seen only in the Western Ghats.

The paper adds that frogs are environmental barometers because they are sensitive to subtle changes in their environment. At odds with this, of course, is their continued existence.

“They lived alongside dinosaurs, which have long since disappeared, but amazingly frogs continue to exist. Unfortunately, their existence is precarious. If the present trends in extinction continue, many frogs could disappear forever," the paper said.

The paper added that a third of the world’s amphibian species are threatened with extinction, although it pointed out that there is still a small ray of hope for frogs as they have lived on earth for a period that is 5,000 times longer than that of humans.

Biju said the Western Ghats is a global amphibian hotspot and one of the most important centres of extraordinary amphibian diversity. He admitted that knowledge of its real diversity is still incomplete. “There is a distinct possibility that about 100 more new species could be discovered in the near future from Western Ghats," Biju said.

There are 181 amphibian species endemic to the Western Ghats as of now. In the last 15 years, 75 new amphibian species have been discovered there.

The study also showed that many of the original habitats of these frogs are highly degraded and threatened by human intervention, highlighting the need for urgent conservation action. “The major threat to amphibians in India is massive habitat loss. Taking any conservation effort for amphibians will indirectly conserve several other important biodiversities of that area" said Biju.

The environment ministry earlier this year declared around 50,000 sq.km of the Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive, based on the report of a high-level working group, led by Planning Commission member K. Kasturirangan, that was submitted to the ministry on 15 April last year.

The report recommended that approximately 37% of the Western Ghats be kept free from activities that have “maximum interventionist and destructive impact on the environment" and be labelled an ecologically sensitive area.

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