Newly discovered NZ frog named after late researcher

Amphibian expert and advocate the late University of Otago researcher Prof Phil Bishop. PHOTO:...
Amphibian expert and advocate the late University of Otago researcher Prof Phil Bishop. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
For some, the thought of frog’s legs is unappetising.

But for Otago researchers, the discovery of a new species of endemic frog among fossils in North Canterbury has been utterly tantalising.

Department of Conservation biodiversity ranger Dr Luke Easton and University of Otago palaeogenetics laboratory director Dr Nic Rawlence have been researching bone fragments from the frog and decided to name it after the late Otago researcher Prof Phil Bishop, who died earlier this year, in recognition of his worldwide services to amphibian research and conservation.

Dr Easton, whose research was supervised by Prof Bishop, said Bishop’s frog (Leiopelma bishopi) was significant because it was the first record of Leiopelma frogs from the eastern South Island and from the Pliocene period, which filled a major gap in understanding the evolution of New Zealand’s frogs.

Leiopelma frogs are a genus of primitive frog known only in New Zealand.

Fossilised leg bones of a newly discovered species of endemic frog, which has been named after...
Fossilised leg bones of a newly discovered species of endemic frog, which has been named after late University of Otago researcher Prof Phil Bishop. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
"The finding and naming of Bishop’s frog bridges an important knowledge gap between the Miocene [16million-19million years ago] and the bones in caves around New Zealand from late Quaternary [which spans the past 20,000 years]," Dr Easton said.

"Due to this poor fossil record, discoveries like Bishop’s frog show that New Zealand may have a rich unknown fossil frog record."

Bishop’s frog is ancestral to the native frogs still present in New Zealand today, including Archey’s, Hochstetter’s and Hamilton’s frogs, which are regarded as some of the world’s most ancient frogs.

Prof Bishop’s wife Debbie said her family was humbled and extremely grateful to both Dr Rawlence and Dr Easton for naming the frog in honour of her husband.

"It is an incredible tribute to his dedication in promoting, conserving and saving this amazing group of amphibians."

john.lewis@odt.co.nz

 

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