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An early Pliocene (5.1 Ma) fossil frog community from Langebaanweg, south-western Cape, South Africa

posted on 12.06.2015, 08:39 by Thalassa Matthews, Eduard van Dijk, Dave L. Roberts, Roger M.H. Smith

The 5.1 million year old fossil site of Langebaanweg (LBW) has provided a wealth of information on the evolution of west coast ecosystems along the southern west coast of South Africa and numerous taxa, including small and large mammals, and birds, make a first appearance in the fossil record at the site. Langebaanweg also contains a rich and diverse anuran fauna which derives from the two main fossil-bearing members at the site. This study identified six families, including Hyperoliidae, Brevicipitidae, Pxyicephalidae, Pipidae, Heleophrynidae and Bufonidae, and some 19 taxa have been differentiated. The majority of frog families identified from the LBW fossil material currently contain a high number of species endemic to the southwestern Cape or South Africa. LBW provides an insight into how current patterns of endemism and distribution may have evolved, and illustrates that the frog community in a region may change substantially over time. The progressive aridification of the west coast subsequent to 5.1 Ma has left very little trace of the rich and diverse frog community which existed during the early Pliocene, and diversity and endemnicity are low today. This challenges the generally held assumption that centres of origin may have a bearing on current-day frog distributions.