Research Article: Morphological and ecological convergence at the lower size limit for vertebrates highlighted by five new miniaturised microhylid frog species from three different Madagascan genera

Date Published: March 27, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Mark D. Scherz, Carl R. Hutter, Andolalao Rakotoarison, Jana C. Riemann, Mark-Oliver Rödel, Serge H. Ndriantsoa, Julian Glos, Sam Hyde Roberts, Angelica Crottini, Miguel Vences, Frank Glaw, Mathew S. Crowther.


Miniaturised frogs form a fascinating but poorly understood amphibian ecomorph and have been exceptionally prone to taxonomic underestimation. The subfamily Cophylinae (family Microhylidae), endemic to Madagascar, has a particularly large diversity of miniaturised species which have historically been attributed to the single genus Stumpffia largely based on their small size. Recent phylogenetic work has revealed that several independent lineages of cophyline microhylids evolved towards highly miniaturised body sizes, achieving adult snout–vent lengths under 16 mm. Here, we describe five new species belonging to three clades that independently miniaturised and that are all genetically highly divergent from their relatives: (i) a new genus (Mini gen. nov.) with three new species from southern Madagascar, (ii) one species of Rhombophryne, and (iii) one species of Anodonthyla. Mini mum sp. nov. from Manombo in eastern Madagascar is one of the smallest frogs in the world, reaching an adult body size of 9.7 mm in males and 11.3 mm in females. Mini scule sp. nov. from Sainte Luce in southeastern Madagascar is slightly larger and has maxillary teeth. Mini ature sp. nov. from Andohahela in southeast Madagascar is larger than its congeners but is similar in build. Rhombophryne proportionalis sp. nov. from Tsaratanana in northern Madagascar is unique among Madagascar’s miniaturised frogs in being a proportional dwarf, exhibiting far less advanced signs of paedomorphism than other species of similar size. Anodonthyla eximia sp. nov. from Ranomafana in eastern Madagascar is distinctly smaller than any of its congeners and is secondarily terrestrial, providing evidence that miniaturisation and terrestriality may be evolutionarily linked. The evolution of body size in Madagascar’s microhylids has been more dynamic than previously understood, and future studies will hopefully shed light on the interplay between ecology and evolution of these remarkably diverse frogs.

Partial Text

Miniaturisation is a common phenomenon in amphibians [1–4], and is especially widespread and extreme in frogs [4–6]. A large proportion of the world’s smallest frogs belong to the highly diverse family Microhylidae [5–8]. Microhylid frogs exhibit high degrees of osteological variation, especially in the morphology of elements of the skull, hands, feet, and pectoral girdle [9]. The smallest species among the microhylids do not belong to a single clade however, but rather occur in various different subfamilies spread across the tropics, including New Guinea [5, 6, 8], Borneo [10, 11], South America [12, 13], and Madagascar [14, 15]. Even within single microhylid subfamilies, multiple independent instances of miniaturisation are evident from the interdigitation of miniaturised and non-miniaturised species in the respective phylogenetic trees [8, 15]. One of the best examples is the subfamily Cophylinae, endemic to Madagascar [15].




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