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Aggie Alum Leads Discovery of New Brazilian Tree Frog Species

Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015

Brazilian tree frog

USU Ecology alum Rodrigo Ferreira PhD'15 and colleagues identified a new species of Brazilian tree frog. Found in the South American nation’s Atlantic Forest, the tiny amphibian displays unique characteristics.

USU Ecology alum Rodrigo Ferreira

Ferreira, who served as a visiting scholar in insect pathology with USU's Biology Department, earned a doctorate in ecology from Utah State in 2015. He’s currently a postdoc at Brazil’s University Vila Velha.

Just in time for the holidays, residents of the Brazilian municipality of Santa Teresa, along the South American nation’s southeastern coast, have a new namesake. Teresensis’ bromeliad is the common name given by a Utah State University alum-led team of researchers to a newly identified species of tree frog that inhabits the Atlantic Forest community’s rocky outcrops.

“While surveying for frogs in the forest, we found a distinct tree frog jumping out of a tropical bromeliad plant growing out of a tree,” says ecologist Rodrigo Ferreira, who completed a doctoral degree from USU in 2015. “We compared this frog’s molecular data with that of 96 other related species and found it was a distinct species.”

Ferreira and his team gave the diminutive frog the scientific name Dendropsophus bromeliaceus and discovered the tiny amphibian displays a number of unique traits. With his USU faculty mentor Karen Beard, professor in the Department of Wildland Resources and the USU Ecology Center, along with colleagues Julián Faivovich of the Argentine Museum of Natural Science and José Pombal of Brazil’s Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Ferreira published findings in the Dec. 9, 2015, online issue of PLOS ONE.

Weeks of field observations revealed a number of Teresenis’ bromeliad’s interesting habits, says Ferreira, who is a postdoctoral fellow with Brazil’s University Vila Velha.

“The frog’s tadpoles differ from similar species because they develop in accumulated rainwater stored in bromeliads’ tightly overlapping leaves, rather than in puddles and ponds on the ground,” he says.

Ferreira and his team also observed the tadpoles’ parents may be territorial and frog dads may lend a hand in guarding their progeny from predators.

“This needs more investigation,” Ferreira says. “But our research reveals the importance of bromeliad plants to these frogs.”

He says the discovery of this new tree frog species emphasizes the importance of Santa Teresa’s mountainous regions for amphibian conservation.

“The region is an important hotspot for frog, toad and bromeliad conservation due to its high richness and number of endemic species,” says Ferreira, who was named the Quinney College of Natural Resources’ Graduate Research Assistant of the Year in 2013. “The rate of new species discoveries suggests Santa Teresa’s biodiversity is far from fully described.”

Related Links

USU Department of Wildland Resources 
USU Ecology Center 
USU Quinney College of Natural Resources 

Contact: Rodrigo Ferreira, 55-27-3421-2167,
Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517,

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