Of the approximately 6000 species of frogs recognized today, most reproduce by depositing eggs in water; the eggs hatch as tadpoles, which complete their development in water before metamorphosing into terrestrial adults. However, in 10 frog families, terrestrial eggs bypass the aquatic larval stage, developing directly into froglets. One of these families, Hemiphractidae, includes the marsupial frogs and their allies. Marsupial frogs are unique among frogs in their reproductive biology. This OPUS project will provide a comprehensive synthesis on the marsupial frogs and their allies. The work will synthesize over 40 years of research, and will result in the publication of book. The book will provide detailed information on the phylogeny, reproductive biology, evolution of egg-brooding, historical geology, and evolution of the group, as well as a systematic overview. About half of this information will be published for the first time in this study.

The project will provide research training for graduate students in various facets of interdisciplinary biological research, and interpreting and illustrating morphological features. An undergraduate student will work with the PI and educators at the Natural History Museum in producing a video for public viewing in the Museum gallery and web site (http://naturalhistory.ku.edu/). The latter recently has been revamped to provide extremely rich content by fusing the visual arts, journalism and hard science.

Project Report

The purpose of this project was to compile all available information of marsupial frogs (family Hemiphractidae: Gastrotheca) in South America. These frogs are unique in that the females have a pouch on the back in which eggs develop. In some species, the eggs hatch as tadpoles that complete their development in ponds, whereas in other species, the entire development takes place in the pouch and young frogs emerge from the pouch. Results of morphological, embryological, and behavioral studies and analyses of two mitochondrial and two nuclear genes clearly show the phylogenetic relationships of the marsupial frogs and their relatives. It is evident that the basal members of this genus have direct development, and the production of free-swimming tadpoles has evolved independently at least three times in the genus. Furthermore, each of seven major lineages inhabits a particular geographic region. The results of these studies will be published in a book, Marsupial Frogs and Their Allies, which is under contract with the Johns Hopkins University Press. The text, tables, and illustrations are scheduled to be delivered to the press on, or about, January 1, 2014. The book consisting of about 450 printed pages and nearly 200 color illustrations should appear in mid 2015.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Environmental Biology (DEB)
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David Mindell
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University of Kansas
United States
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