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More evidence for new species hidden in plain sight

Two articles published today in the online open access journals BMC Evolutionary Biology and BMC Biology provide further evidence that we have hugely underestimated the number of species with which we share our planet. Today sophisticated genetic techniques mean that superficially identical animals previously classed as members of a single species, including the frogs and giraffes in these studies, could in fact come from several distinct ‘cryptic’ species.

In the Upper Amazon, Kathryn Elmer and Stephen Lougheed working at Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada teamed up with José Dávila from Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos, Cuidad Real, Spain to investigate the terrestrial leaflitter frog (Eleutherodactylus ockendeni) at 13 locations across Ecuador.

Looking at the frogs’ mitochondrial and nuclear DNA, the researchers found three distinct species, which look very much alike. These species have distinct geographic distributions, but these don't correspond to modern landscape barriers. Coupled with phylogenetic analyses, this suggests they diverged before the Ecuadorean Andes arose, in the Miocene period over 5.3 million years ago.

"Our research coupled with other studies suggests that species richness in the upper Amazon is drastically underestimated by current inventories based on morphospecies," say the authors.

And in Africa, an interdisciplinary team from the University of California, Los Angeles, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, and the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya has found that there may be more to the giraffe than meets the eye, too.

Their analysis of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA shows at least six genealogically distinct lineages of giraffe in Africa, with little evidence of interbreeding between them. Further divisions within these groups mean that in total the researchers have spotted 11 genetically distinct populations.

“Such extreme genetic subdivision within a large vertebrate with high dispersal capabilities is unprecedented and exceeds that of any other large African mammal,” says graduate student David Brown, first author of the study. The researchers estimate that the giraffe populations they surveyed have been genetically distinct for between 0.13 and 1.62 million years. The findings have serious implications for giraffe conservation because some among these subgroups have as few as 100 members, making them highly endangered – if not yet officially recognised – species.

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Journal of Biology aims to address the issue of cryptic species in a forthcoming mini-review article also published this week. The review will look at current research agendas into biodiversity, incorporating research approaches from taxonomy, molecular population biology.

Notes to Editors:

Articles:

Cryptic diversity and deep divergence in an upper Amazonian frog, Eleutherodactylus ockendeni
Kathryn R Elmer, Jose A Davila and Stephen C Lougheed
BMC Evolutionary Biology (in press)

Extensive Population Genetic Structure in the Giraffe
David M Brown, Rick A Brenneman, Klaus-Peter Koepfli, John P Pollinger, Borja Mila, Nicholas J Georgiadis, Edward E Louis Jr, Gregory F Grether, David K Jacobs and Robert K Wayne
BMC Biology (in press)

During embargo, articles available here: http://www.biomedcentral.com/imedia/1341027020118576_article.pdf?random=653098

http://www.biomedcentral.com/imedia/2129663810162491_article.pdf?random=541729

After the embargo, article available at journal websites: http://www.biomedcentral.com/bmcevolbiol/

http://www.biomedcentral.com/bmcbiol/

Cryptic biodiversity in a changing worlLuciano B Beheregaray and Adalgisa Caccone Journal of Biology 2007, 6:9

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central’s open access policy.

Article citation and URL available on request at press@biomedcentral.com on the day of publication

BMC Evolutionary Biology is an open access journal publishing original peer-reviewed research articles in all aspects of molecular and non-molecular evolution of all organisms, as well as phylogenetics and palaeontology. BMC Evolutionary Biology (ISSN 1471-2148) is indexed/tracked/covered by PubMed, MEDLINE, BIOSIS, CAS, Scopus, Zoological Record, Thomson Scientific (ISI) and Google Scholar.

BMC Biology - the flagship biology journal of the BMC series - publishes research and methodology articles of special importance and broad interest in any area of biology and biomedical sciences. BMC Biology (ISSN 1741-7007) is covered by PubMed, Scopus, CAS, BIOSIS, Zoological Record and Google Scholar. The journal is tracked by Thomson Scientific (ISI) and will receive its first Impact Factor in 2008.

BioMed Central (www.biomedcentral) is an independent online publishing house committed to providing immediate access without charge to the peer-reviewed biological and medical research it publishes. This commitment is based on the view that open access to research is essential to the rapid and efficient communication of science.



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