A new ancient lineage of frog (Anura: Nyctibatrachidae: Astrobatrachinae subfam. nov.) endemic to the Western Ghats of Peninsular India
The Western Ghats (WG) is an escarpment on the west coast of Peninsular India, housing one of the richest assemblages of frogs in the world, with three endemic families. Here, we report the discovery of a new ancient lineage from a high-elevation massif in the Wayanad Plateau of the southern WG. Phylogenetic analysis reveals that the lineage belongs to Natatanura and clusters with Nyctibatrachidae, a family endemic to the WG/Sri Lanka biodiversity hotspot. Based on geographic distribution, unique morphological traits, deep genetic divergence, and phylogenetic position that distinguishes the lineage from the two nyctibatrachid subfamilies Nyctibatrachinae Blommers-Schlosser, 1993 and Lankanectinae Dubois & Ohler, 2001, we erect a new subfamily Astrobatrachinae subfam. nov. (endemic to the WG, Peninsular India), and describe a new genus Astrobatrachus gen. nov. and species, Astrobatrachus kurichiyana sp. nov. The discovery of this species adds to the list of deeply divergent and monotypic or depauperate lineages with narrow geographic ranges in the southern massifs of the WG. The southern regions of the WG have long been considered geographic and climatic refugia, and this new relict lineage underscores their evolutionary significance. The small range of this species exclusively outside protected areas highlights the significance of reserve forest tracts in the WG in housing evolutionary novelty. This reinforces the need for intensive sampling to uncover new lineages and advance our understanding of the historical biogeography of this ancient landmass.
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