A biodiversity resource assessment conducted in the Southern Leyte Province of the Philippines in November, has resulted in the discovery of two new species of frog and a total of 229 recorded flora species, 31 of which are endemic.

Despite its reputation for having fragmented and degraded forests, this impressive list of fauna and flora demonstrates the under-appreciated biodiversity of the Philippines.

The assessment was led by Fauna & Flora International, the National Museum of the Philippines, the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau-DENR and DENR Region 8, and funded by Deutsche Gessellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and the UNDP-GEF New Conservation Areas of the Philippines Project (NewCAPP).

Aimed at generating species inventories and practical information on key species-habitat associations, study results will inform forest and biodiversity management planning.

The month-long ground surveys in Southern Leyte covered six municipalities – Silago, Hinunangan, Sogod, Maasin, Tomas Oppus and Malitbog – and recorded a total of 229 flora species, 31 of which are unique to the Philippines.

The discovery of two undescribed forest-dependent species of frogs of the genus Platymantis is a significant result from the assessment, which is pioneering the detailed documentation of new and important information on the ecology and natural history of many species of vertebrates, endemic to Leyte.

Newly discovered Platymantis species Credit: Arvin Diesmos

Newly discovered Platymantis species Credit: Arvin Diesmos

The frogs, yet to be formally named, inhabit the montane and mossy forests of the Nacolod Mountain range. Both species differ markedly from other known Philippine Platymantis frogs by their body size, coloration patterns and 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 member of the hazelae group has been discovered in Mindanao faunal region, of which the island of Leyte belongs to.

The National Museum of the Philippines reports that herpetologists from the United States and the Philippines are now working on formal taxonomic descriptions.

The total species includes: 10 that are classified by the IUCN as Critically Endangered (most of which are Dipterocarp trees) and 20 Vulnerable species; 212 terrestrial species comprising 112 types of birds (41 of these are unique to the Philippines and 11 are threatened with extinction), 36 species of mammals (17 of which are unique to the Philippines) and 64 species of amphibians and reptiles (mostly found only in the Philippines).

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. For local government units in Southern Leyte, the findings provide the scientific basis in designing appropriate management systems and monitoring protocols useful in establishing local forest and biodiversity areas, and will steer the rehabilitation of forests towards an efficient and more ecologically sound path.

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 of the year and if a wide range of habitat and elevational zones (from lowland Dipterocarp to mossy forests) are sampled.