Testing species limits of New Zealand's leiopelmatid frogs through morphometric analyses

Luke J. Easton, Nicolas J. Rawlence, Trevor H. Worthy, Alan J.D. Tennyson, R. Paul Scofield, Clint J. Easton, Ben D. Bell, Peter A. Whigham, Katharine J.M. Dickinson, Phillip J. Bishop

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    10 Citations (Scopus)


    The taxonomic status of some of New Zealands endemic and threatened leiopelmatid frogs has been debated for decades. Clarifying this uncertainty is vital to their conservation, especially given the risk of extinction of cryptic taxa. We re-examined leiopelmatid diversity through multivariate analyses of the skeletal and external morphology of extinct and extant Leiopelma to determine morphological differentiation. Our results suggest that the morphological distinction between extinct taxa is greater than in modern extant taxa. While size ranges of postcranial elements overlapped within extant species, maxillae shape discriminated some extant taxa. We confirm the morphological distinctiveness of the extinct taxa recognized to date but identify latitudinal and altitudinal variation in postcranial element size and shape within the widespread Leiopelma markhami and L. waitomoensis, which suggest possible post-human extinction of cryptic taxa. Furthermore, the lack of morphological and osteological differentiation between L. archeyi and the insular extant L. hamiltoni and L. pakeka leads us to question the taxonomic distinctiveness of these three taxa. Future genetic research using modern and ancient DNA is recommended to enable species limits within Leiopelma to be tested in more detail to provide an evidence-based assessment for their conservation management.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)431-444
    Number of pages14
    JournalZoological Journal of the Linnean Society
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 14 Jun 2018


    • extinctions
    • frogs
    • Leiopelma
    • morphology
    • New Zealand
    • phylogeography
    • Quaternary fossils


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