Common Costa Rican frog species consists of several 'cryptic' species

By Brooks Hays
A male Warszewitsch's frog photographed in Panama. Photo by Robert Puschendorf
A male Warszewitsch's frog photographed in Panama. Photo by Robert Puschendorf

April 11 (UPI) -- Scientists have discovered multiple "cryptic" species hiding inside a common Costa Rican frog species.

Warszewitsch's frog is found in Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. But according to a new study, not all Lithobates warszewitschii frogs are the same.


Scientists in Britain and Costa Rica used an analysis technique called DNA barcoding to compare snippets of DNA samples collected from dozens of Warszewitsch's frog specimens collected from three different locations in Costa Rica and Panama.

Genetic sequences from the specimens' mitochondria, the DNA powerhouses inside animal cells, revealed significant intraspecies diversity. The analysis showed the common species houses several cryptic species within it.

Cryptic species are groups within a single classified species that exhibit genetic diversity greater than genetic differences between divergent, classified species.

Previous analysis suggested there were at least two cryptic species among Lithobates warszewitschii frogs, but the latest findings -- published in the journal ZooKeys -- suggests Warszewitsch's frogs consist of multiple cryptic species.

"The next step will be to gather more samples throughout the full range of the species," lead study author James Cryer, conservation biologist at the University of Plymouth, said in a news release. "Additionally, if we are to fully discern one species variant from another, further studies that compare the physical, behavioral and ecological characteristics of the frogs, alongside more genetic testing is needed."


Researchers hope their findings will lead to an improved understanding of amphibian diversity.

"If indeed there are multiple species, it may be that they have different ecological requirements, and therefore different approaches to their conservation are needed." Cryer said. "This study further reinforces the power of DNA barcoding for rapid, preliminary species identification. Especially in the tropics, where habitat loss, climate change and infectious disease continually threaten many undescribed amphibian species."

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