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New Zealand's native frogs (genus Leiopelma) are considered to be archaic
amphibians of exceptional scientific interest that appear to have remained
virtually unchanged for 160-200 million years. They are among the rarest
extant amphibians and are highly restricted in distribution, confined to
isolated, highly disjunct, populations on the North Island and a few
small offshore islands in Cook Strait. Previous investigations have
suggested, based on patterns of allozyme variation, that the
Stephens Island frog (Leiopelma hamiltoni) and Archey's frog
(L. archeyi) are sister taxa to the exclusion of the Maud Island
frog, a species in close geographical proximity to the Stephens
Island frog and previously viewed as a population of this
species. As a consequence of these data, a new species,
L. pakeka, the Maud Island Frog, has been described. This new
species definition has dramatically enhanced the conservation status
of L. hamiltoni, of which there are probably fewer than 150
individuals. In this study we re-examine the systematics of the
Leiopelmatidae using mtDNA sequence analyses. Partial 12 S
ribosomal RNA and cytochrome b (Cyt b) gene sequences were
obtained for 57 frogs from six populations representing all
four extant Leiopelma species. Contrary to previous reports
we find L. pakeka and L. hamiltoni to be monophyletic. The amount
of variation evident between these present species (<1% for Cyt b)
is comparable to that seen between populations of L. archeyi. Based
on these data, classification of L. pakeka and L. hamiltoni as
separate species appears to be unwarranted, but they may be
sufficiently distinct to warrant classification as evolutionarily
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