Mountain colonisation, miniaturisation and ecological evolution in a radiation of direct-developing New Guinea Frogs (Choerophryne, Microhylidae)

Paul M. Oliver, Amy Iannella, Stephen J. Richards, Michael S.Y. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Aims. Mountain ranges in the tropics are characterised by high levels of localised endemism, often-aberrant evolutionary trajectories, and some of the world's most diverse regional biotas. Here we investigate the evolution of montane endemism, ecology and body size in a clade of direct-developing frogs (Choerophryne, Microhylidae) from New Guinea. Methods. Phylogenetic relationships were estimated from a mitochondrial molecular dataset using Bayesian and maximum likelihood approaches. Ancestral state reconstruction was used to infer the evolution of elevational distribution, ecology (indexed by male calling height), and body size, and phylogenetically corrected regression was employed to examine the relationships between these three traits. Results. We obtained strong support for a monophyletic lineage comprising the majority of taxa sampled. Within this clade we identified one subclade that appears to have diversified primarily in montane habitats of the Central Cordillera (> 1,000 m a.s.l.), with subsequent dispersal to isolated North Papuan Mountains. A second subclade (characterised by moderately to very elongated snouts) appears to have diversified primarily in hill forests (< 1,000 m a.s.l.), with inferred independent upwards colonisations of isolated montane habitats, especially in isolated North Papuan Mountains. We found no clear relationship between extremely small body size (adult SVL less than 15 mm) and elevation, but a stronger relationship with ecology-smaller species tend to be more terrestrial. Conclusions. Orogeny and climatic oscillations have interacted to generate high montane biodiversity in New Guinea via both localised diversification within montane habitats (centric endemism) and periodic dispersal across lowland regions (eccentric endemism). The correlation between extreme miniaturisation and terrestrial habits reflects a general trend in frogs, suggesting that ecological or physiological constraints limit niche usage by miniaturised frogs, even in extremely wet environments such as tropical mountains.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3077
Number of pages23
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Central Cordillera
  • Endemism
  • Montane cradle
  • Montane museum
  • North Papuan Mountains
  • Terrestrial


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