Scientists find 200 new frog species in Madagascar

PORT LOUIS (Reuters) - Scientists have found more than 200 new species of frogs in Madagascar but a political crisis is hurting conservation of the Indian Ocean island’s unique wildlife, a study shows.

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The discovery, which almost doubles the number of known amphibians in Madagascar, illustrates an underestimation of the natural riches that have helped spawn a $390-million-a-year tourism industry.

However, months of instability culminating in a change of government after street protests, have compromised gains in conservation.

“The political instability is allowing the cutting of the forest within national parks, generating a lot of uncertainty about the future of the planned network of protected areas,” David Vieites, researcher at the Spanish National Natural Sciences Museum, said in a statement.

The world’s fourth-largest island, known for exotic creatures such as the ring-tailed lemur and poisonous frogs, is a biodiversity hotspot.

More than 80 percent of the mammals in Madagascar are found nowhere else, while all but one of the 217 previously known species of amphibian are believed by scientists to be native.

“People think that we know which plant and animal species live on this planet,” team member Miguel Vences, professor at the Technical University of Braunschweig, said in the statement.

“But the centuries of discoveries has only just begun -- the majority of life forms on Earth is still awaiting scientific recognition.”

Human demands on the land and decades of rampant logging have destroyed 80 percent of Madagascar’s rain forest, threatening hundreds of species, he said.

The study, carried out by the Spanish Scientific Research Council (CSIC), and published in the May issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests the find of between 129 and 221 new species of frogs could double the number of amphibians globally if the results are extrapolated worldwide.

Almost a quarter of the new species discovered have not yet been found in unprotected areas, the study stated.

Madagascar broke away from Africa almost 160 million years ago, leaving its flora and fauna to develop in isolation.