New flora, frog species discovered in Southern Leyte

A biodiversity resource assessment conducted in Southern Leyte in November 2011 resulted in the discovery of at least two new species of frogs and a total of 229 recorded flora species, 31 of which are unique to the country.

Despite the degraded condition of the area’s forests, the list of fauna and flora species proved the under appreciated biodiversity of the Philippines.

Whilst the highlight of the assessment is the discovery of the new frog species, it also generated a detailed documentation of new and important information on the ecology and natural history of many species of vertebrates that are endemic to Leyte.

The month-long ground surveys in Southern Leyte (covering the municipalities of Silago, Hinunangan, Sogod, Maasin, Tomas Oppus, and Malitbog) recorded a total of 229 floral species (31 of which are unique to the Philippines) and 212 terrestrial vertebrates species, comprising 112 species of birds (41 species are unique to the Philippines, 11 of which are threatened to extinction), 36 species of mammals (17 species are unique to the Philippines) and 64 species of amphibians and reptiles (more than half of which are found only in the Philippines).

It is anticipated that a significant number of species will be recorded from Southern Leyte with continued field sampling, especially if the surveys are conducted during the drier months and if a wide range of habitat and elevation zones (from lowland Dipterocarp to mossy forests) are sampled.

The two newly discovered forest-obligate species of frogs belong to the genus Platymantis. These species inhabit the montane and mossy forests of the Nacolod Mountain Range in Southern Leyte. Both species differ markedly from other known species of Philippine Platymantis frogs by their body size, coloration patterns, and advertisement calls. The two species are allied to two different species groups, the Platymantis guentheri group and Platymantis hazelae group. This is the first time that a Platymantis species belonging to the hazelae group has been discovered in the Mindanao faunal region, of which the island of Leyte belongs to. Herpetologists from the Philippines and the U.S. are now working on the formal taxonomic description of the species.

The Assessment indicated the general preference of Southern Leyte’s fauna to forest and riverine environments. The information generated, now provides a baseline that can be used to predict impacts of habitat change on species and to design measures to protect forest biodiversity. For local government units in Southern Leyte, the findings provide the scientific basis in designing appropriate management systems and monitoring protocols useful in protecting forest ecosystems, establishing local forest and biodiversity areas, as well as to steer the rehabilitation of forests toward an efficient and more ecologically sound path.

For the national government it will spur forest protection and rehabilitation efforts under the Philippine National REDD-Plus Strategy as part of the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAPP), and the National Greening Program.

The discovery of the new species on the fragmented forests of Mt. Nacolod intensifies the potential of REDD-Plus for effective protection and rehabilitation of natural forests and conservation of biodiversity, while benefiting local communities. Greater involvement of LGUs in conserving the biodiversity of Nacolod is expected.

The two new species of frogs from Southern Leyte will be unveiled at the Marble Hall of the Museum of the Filipino People at 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on April 17, 2012. Invited guests include Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources Ramon J.P. Paje; Mr. Ralph Timmermann, Deputy Head of Mission Federal Republic of Germany Embassy; Dr. Bernd-Markus Liss, Principal Advisor of the International Climate Change projects in the Philippines of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ); and Mr. Jeremy Barns, Director of the National Museum of the Philippines.

The biodiversity assessments were conducted by Fauna & FIora International, the National Museum of the Philippines, the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the DENR Region 8 office. The assessments were done on behalf of two projects, namely:

a. the DENR-Forest Management Bureau and the German Development Cooperation-Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH’s climate relevant modernization of forest policy and piloting of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) in the Philippines Project; and

b. the DENR-PAWB, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) New Conservation Areas in the Philippines Project (NewCAPP).

The study was aimed at generating species inventories and practical information on key species-habitat associations as sound bases for forest and biodiversity management planning. 🙄

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