June 7th, 2013 by James Ayre
The Hula Frog — a species of frog declared extinct back in 1996 — was recently found to not actually be extinct. The species was rediscovered in northern Israel, where a small remnant population has apparently managed to persist, within a small portion of the species’ previous range.
The Hula frog was the first amphibian species to be declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). But as we’ve recently found out, the frog isn’t actually extinct (not yet). The species was thought to have gone extinct sometime around the 1950s — when it seemingly disappeared, along with the drying up of its habitat — Hula Lake.
As a result of the rediscovery, genetic analyses have now been done on the species, and revealed something rather interesting — the species is a “living fossil,” not possessing any close relatives in the world, and being the last species of a group which was previously endemic to Europe, some one million years ago.
When it was first discovered in the 1940s, the Hula painted frog was categorized within the Discoglossus group, but as the new genetic analyses have revealed the species doesn’t really fit in that group at all. And unfortunately, isn’t closely related to the strange Horror Frog either, and doesn’t possess any its interesting traits.
When the genetic analyses are taken together with morphologic analyses of extant and fossil bones, it becomes clear that the Hula frog is quite different from its relatives — the painted frogs of northern and western Africa. Interestingly, the species is most closely related to a genus of fossil frogs — Latonia — which previously lived throughout much of Europe, but disappeared from the fossil record in the region some one million years ago.
What that means, is that the Hula painted frog is the sole living representative of a very old clade of frogs, and has no close relatives in the world. A “clade” is a group with a single common ancestor.
There are currently some plans in the works to potentially reflood portions of the Hula Valley — restoring the swamp habitat that previously covered the area. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with regards to the Hula frog — will the species be able to avoid extinction and recover? Has the species already lost too much genetic diversity to survive long-term? Is it now too-susceptible to potential diseases, environmental changes, or inbreeding?
The new research was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.
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