Skip to main content Skip to main navigation menu Skip to site footer
Type: Article
Published: 2021-10-20
Page range: 52-68
Abstract views: 864
PDF downloaded: 62

Seen only once: an evolutionarily distinct species of Toadlet (Uperoleia: Myobatrachidae) from the Wessel Islands of northern Australia

School of Biological Sciences, University of Western Australia, Perth, WA, Australia. Ecology & Evolution, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Acton, ACT, Australia
Ecology & Evolution, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Acton, ACT, Australia
Amphibia Anura endemism Uperoleia gurrumuli sp. nov. phylogenetic species concept


There is a high rate of recent species discovery in remote regions of northern Australia, especially for amphibians and reptiles. The Wessel Islands, located in the northeastern corner of the Northern Territory, has recently been identified as a region of high species and phylogenetic endemism based on samples collected during the sole reptile and amphibian survey there in 1993. Using a phylogenetic approach, we describe a new, evolutionarily distinct species of Uperoleia endemic to the Wessel Islands. This description is based on three specimens, one female and two juveniles, which represent the only confirmed vouchers of the species. Due to the low number of specimens, this new species cannot be diagnosed morphologically from other closely related Uperoleia, and nothing is currently known about the mating call or basic biology. The discovery of this species provides further evidence for the islands’ importance as an area of endemism and identifies an urgent need for further surveys to document the unique biological diversity of the Wessel Islands.



  1. Anstis, M. (2017) Tadpoles and frogs of Australia. 2nd Edition. New Holland Publishers, Sydney.
    Bouckaert, R., Heled, J., Kühnert, D., Vaughan, T., Wu, C.-H., Xie, D., Suchard, M.A., Rambaut, A. & Drummond, A.J. (2014) BEAST 2: A software platform for Bayesian evolutionary analysis. PLOS Computational Biology, 10, e1003537.
    Catullo, R.A., Doughty, P. & Keogh, J.S. (2014a) A new frog species (Myobatrachidae: Uperoleia) from the Northern Deserts region of Australia, with a redescription of U. trachyderma. Zootaxa, 3753 (3), 251–262.
    Catullo, R.A., Doughty, P., Roberts, J.D. & Keogh, J.S. (2011) Multi-locus phylogeny and taxonomic revision of Uperoleia toadlets (Anura: Myobatrachidae) from the western arid zone of Australia, with a description of a new species. Zootaxa, 2902 (1), 1–43.
    Catullo, R.A. & Keogh, J.S. (2014) Aridification drove repeated episodes of diversification between Australian biomes: Evidence from a multi-locus phylogeny of Australian toadlets (Uperoleia: Myobatrachidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 79, 106–117.
    Catullo, R.A., Lanfear, R., Doughty, P. & Keogh, J.S. (2014b) The biogeographical boundaries of northern Australia: evidence from ecological niche models and a multi-locus phylogeny of Uperoleia toadlets (Anura: Myobatrachidae). Journal of Biogeography, 41, 659–672.
    Clulow, S., Anstis, M., Keogh, J.S. & Catullo, R.A. (2016) A new species of Australian frog (Myobatrachidae: Uperoleia) from the New South Wales mid-north coast sandplains. Zootaxa, 4184 (2), 285–315.
    Clulow, S. & Swan, M. (2018) A Complete Guide to Frogs of Australia. 1st ed. Australian Geographic, Sydney, New South Wales, 336 pp.
    De Queiroz, K. (2007) Species concepts and species delimitation. Systematic Biology, 56, 879–886.
    Flot, J.-F. (2010) seqphase: a web tool for interconverting phase input/output files and fasta sequence alignments. Molecular Ecology Resources, 10, 162–166.
    Guindon, S., Dufayard, J.-F., Lefort, V., Anisimova, M., Hordijk, W. & Gascuel, O. (2010) New algorithms and methods to estimate maximum-likelihood phylogenies: assessing the performance of PhyML 3.0. Systematic Biology, 59, 307–321.
    Gumurr Marthkal Rangers (2015) Marthakal Indigenous Protected Area NT: Management zones and key activities. National Environmental Research Program, Department of Environment, Australian Government. Available from: (accessed 21 September 2021)
    Hoang, D.T., Chernomor, O., von Haeseler, A., Minh, B.Q. & Vinh, L.S. (2018) UFBoot2: improving the ultrafast bootstrap approximation. Molecular Biology and Evolution 35, 518–522.
    van der Kaars, W.A. (1991) Palynology of eastern Indonesian marine piston-cores: a Late Quaternary vegetational and climatic record for Australasia. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 85, 239–302.
    Kalyaanamoorthy, S., Minh, B.Q., Wong, T.K.F., von Haeseler, A. & Jermiin, L.S. (2017) ModelFinder: fast model selection for accurate phylogenetic estimates. Nature Methods, 14, 587–589.
    Katoh, K., Misawa, K., Kuma, K. & Miyata, T. (2002) MAFFT: a novel method for rapid multiple sequence alignment based on fast Fourier transform. Nucleic Acids Research, 30, 3059–3066.
    Katoh, K. & Standley, D.M. (2013) MAFFT multiple sequence alignment software Version 7: improvements in performance and usability. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 30, 772–780.
    Lleonart, J., Salat, J. & Torres, G.J. (2000) Removing allometric effects of body size in morphological analyses. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 205, 85–93.
    Mahony, M., Moses, B., Mahony, S.V., Lemckert, F.L. & Donnellan, S. (2020) A new species of frog in the Litoria ewingii species group (Anura: Pelodryadidae) from south-eastern Australia. Zootaxa, 4858 (2), 201–230.
    Moritz, C., Fujita, M.K., Rosauer, D., Agudo, R., Bourke, G., Doughty, P., Palmer, R., Pepper, M., Potter, S., Pratt, R., Scott, M., Tonione, M. & Donnellan, S. (2016) Multilocus phylogeography reveals nested endemism in a gecko across the monsoonal tropics of Australia. Molecular Ecology, 25, 1354–1366.
    Nguyen, L.-T., Schmidt, H.A., von Haeseler, A. & Minh, B.Q. (2015) IQ-TREE: a fast and effective stochastic algorithm for estimating maximum-likelihood phylogenies. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 32, 268–274.
    Palmer, C. (2017) Wessel & English Company Island groups—Sites of conservation significance. Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts, and Sport, Northern Territory. [unknown pagination]
    Potter, S., Xue, A.T., Bragg Jason G., Rosauer Dan F., Roycroft Emily J., & Moritz C. (2018) Pleistocene climatic changes drive diversification across a tropical savanna. Molecular Ecology, 27, 520–532.
    Rambaut, A., Suchard, M.A. & Drummond, A.J. (2013) Tracer. Institute of Evolutionary Biology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh. Available from: (accessed 21 September 2021)
    Rankmore, B. (2005) Introduced animals on Northern Territory islands: improving Australia’s ability to protect its island habitats from feral animals. Biodiversity Conservation Unit, Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts, Northern Territory, 34 pp.
    Rosauer, D.F., Blom, M.P.K., Bourke, G., Catalano, S., Donnellan, S., Gillespie, G., Mulder, E., Oliver, P.M., Potter, S., Pratt, R.C., Rabosky, D.L., Skipwith, P.L. & Moritz, C. (2016) Phylogeography, hotspots and conservation priorities: an example from the Top End of Australia. Biological Conservation, 204, 83–93.
    Singhal, S., Hoskin, C.J., Couper, P., Potter, S. & Moritz, C. (2018) A framework for resolving cryptic species: a case study from the lizards of the Australian Wet Tropics. Systematic Biology, 67, 1061–1075.
    Stephens, M. & Scheet, P. (2005) Accounting for decay of linkage disequilibrium in haplotype inference and missing-data imputation. The American Journal of Human Genetics, 76, 449–462.
    Stephens, M., Smith, N.J. & Donnelly, P. (2001) A new statistical method for haplotype reconstruction from population data. The American Journal of Human Genetics 68, 978–989.
    Thums, M., Klaassen, M. & Hume, I.D. (2005) Seasonal changes in the diet of the Long-Nosed Bandicoot (Perameles nasuta) assessed by analysis of faecal scats and of stable isotopes in blood. Australian Journal of Zoology, 53, 87–93.
    Vidal-García, M., Byrne, P.G., Roberts, J.D. & Keogh, J.S. (2014) The role of phylogeny and ecology in shaping morphology in 21 genera and 127 species of Australo-Papuan myobatrachid frogs. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 27, 181–192.
    Warren, D.L., Geneva, A.J. & Lanfear, R. (2017) RWTY (R We There Yet): An R package for examining convergence of Bayesian phylogenetic analyses. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 34, 1016–1020.
    Wheeler, Q.D. (1999) Why the phylogenetic species concept?—Elementary. Journal of Nematology, 31, 134–141.
    Woodroffe, C.D., Bryant, E.A., Price, D.M. & Short, S.A. (1992) Quaternary inheritance of coastal landforms, Cobourg Peninsula, northern territory. Australian Geographer, 23, 101–115.