Exploring the 'Galaxy' that connects continents

by ZSL on

By Rajkumar K P

The galaxy frog looks similar to a black pearl and if you observe them closely you will be amazed by the striking blue and orange hues on it. If you go further and take a photo of one, you will be able to see the galaxy like appearance, with billions of stars on its skin. This tiny frog grows almost to the size of an engagement ring and was first described way back in 1878, based on specimens collected from beneath a rotting log in the moist evergreen forests of the Anamalai Hills in the Western Ghats of India.

It is rarely encountered and since it's discovery, there have only been 7 records of this frog. The galaxy frog's closest relatives are found in east Africa which suggests that this group of frogs evolved during the Mesozoic era. Therefore, they are evolutionarily unique and their limited distribution makes them more vulnerable to threats.

Photo - Close-up of a little black frog with small light blue spots and orange patches on it's underbelly, sat on moss.

In 2004, the galaxy frog was assessed as Endangered due to its restricted distribution and degradation of its habitat. This frog is also one of EDGE’s top 100 robust priority vertebrates in the world. The limited knowledge of this frog's distribution, habitat preference, ecology and behaviour makes it difficult for conservationists to understand the species, thier potential threats and to develop conservation strategies.

The main aim of my EDGE Fellowship project, titled ‘Status, distribution and ecology of the galaxy frog in the Western Ghats’, is to generate baseline information on their distribution range, population size, habitat preference, breeding behaviour, details about their eggs, larvae, vocalisation and threats. Habitat loss and micro-habitat destruction are possible threats to the species and there may be others.

Land use has changed drastically in the recent past which has resulted in landslides and floods within the range of this frog which could impact the species. There are different indigenous communities living close to the known distribution range of this frog. I will be assessing the knowledge that the local communities have of this frog and incorporate this information in subsequent conservation action plans for this species and its habitat.

Niche modelling will be done using the relatively few records of this species to find predicted priority areas to conduct sustainable distribution surveys. Populations of galaxy frog are seperated north and south by Palghat Gap which is a geographical barrier, we will use molecular taxonomic tools to find out the level of genetic variation between the populations. This will also help to find out whether the frog is a single species or a species complex and consequently, we can prioritise conservation and management actions. 

Photo - Portrait shot of Rajkumar smiling at the camera, wearing a blue t-shirt with greenery in the background.

This study will be a major step in the conservation of the galaxy frog and its habitat. Since there are no studies on it so far, the information generated on their distribution, ecology, biology and threats will be a crucial data for their conservation and it will also encourage more such studies of other lesser known amphibians in the biodiversity hotspot of Western Ghats.

The study will elucidate the relationship between local communities and the galaxy frog’s habitat and hence the conservation action plans will prove helpful in protecting the species and its habitat along with the local community participation. In the long run, a stable population of galaxy frogs will be conserved and through its habitat conservation, other sympatric fauna and flora will benefit as well.

I would like to thank the Fondation Segre and EDGE of Existence Programme for providing fund for this study. I would also like to extend my gratitude to all the EDGE staff, EDGE fellows, ZSL, my supervisor and friends for the endless support and directions given for formulating the study. I also thank the Kerala Forest and Wildlife Department and the staff for facilitating the field visits.

 

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