Dr. Fred Kraus, an EEB research scientist, has discovered about 120 new species of amphibians and reptiles while conducting biotic surveys in Papua New Guinea over the last 12 years.
Recently, Kraus made a donation of 400 lizards, snakes and frogs from PNG to the U-M Museum of Zoology to add to the extensive research collection. Some of these will be described as new species.
The UMMZ Division of Reptiles and Amphibians maintains a collection that is worldwide in scope and presently contains over 195,000 catalogued lots representing more than 431,000 individual specimens. A “lot” may contain a single specimen, or it may consist of multiple individuals from a single sampling event. Most of the donated specimens are preserved in ethanol. Some of the frogs are being prepared as skeletons.
One of the major goals of Kraus’ research program is to better understand the patterns of how the unique reptiles and amphibians of New Guinea are endemic to certain geographic locations. New Guinea has a complex geological history involving the accretion of arcs of formerly offshore islands onto the northern margin of the Australian continental plate, resulting in extensive and rapid mountain formations. As a consequence, a great number of the region’s reptiles and amphibians do not range across the entire island but are restricted to narrower regions of particular geological origin.
For example, most of the species found in the southeastern peninsula of New Guinea do not occur in the Central Highlands, and vice versa. Endemism is similarly found among the north-coast mountain ranges and the southern lowlands. As a result, each of these regions has a distinctive herpetofauna that differs significantly from those of the other regions. Further, within any given region it is frequently the case that single isolated mountains, small mountain ranges, or offshore islands will have developed their own endemic species having even more restricted distributions.
Sorting out these patterns of endemism is critical for setting efficient conservation priorities in the region because it is better to devote limited funding and effort to protecting regions harboring many local unique species than to regions with fewer unique species.
The collection is stored at Varsity Drive in Ann Arbor. Kraus has made many donations to the division over the years and plans to continue to add to the collection. His work is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.