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Florida Museum Curator Discovers Six New Frog Species

Photo courtesy Daniel M. Portik
Photo courtesy Daniel M. Portik

Before the plastic pregnancy test became mainstream in the 1970s, women had a livelier option in finding out whether they had a baby on board.

In the 1930s, some pregnancies were confirmed by African clawed frogs. Scientists discovered that frogs carrying eggs would lay them within hours of being exposed to a pregnant woman's urine, as opposed to at least a day without such exposure.

Now, after years of research David Blackburn, a Gainesville herpetologist and associate curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, has discovered six new species of the frog - which he believes can shed further light on helping them understand environmental and health-related issues.

“The more that we know about the diversity of these biomedically important frogs, the more that we have opportunities for asking interesting questions in biology," Blackburn said.

In January Blackburn, a Harvard graduate with a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology, completed research that led to the discovery of the new frog species while conducting field research in the central African country of Cameroon. The final stages of his research was funded by the University of Florida as part of its Preeminence Initiative - which targets sustainability and biodiversity.

The initiative focuses on species of animals, plants and insects that have not been discovered and seeks to maintain balance within the environment. Researchers like Blackburn strive to put newly discovered species on the map and ultimately protect them from extinction.

"We're losing 27,000 species a year in the tropical forests alone," said Paul Ramey, spokesman for the museum. "A lot of species are declining because of habitat loss."

While variations in the African clawed frog species are small, they have a remarkable scientific importance, Blackburn said. Among other things, frogs can indicate when there are disturbances in the ecosystem and prevent problems before they have a chance to progress, he said.

Ben Evans, a co-author in Blackburn's research and an associate professor of biology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, said frogs are a cornerstone in research and biodiversity and help in the learning process.

“First of all, they have an impact on climate control and conservation management strategies," Evans said. "It can also help sculpt conservation management strategies."


Julia is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.