The present book is the third edition of the "Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Madagascar". Those who know the first and second edition of this book will notice important changes. Besides major differences in the lay out and an increase in the number of colour pictures, the differences are mainly due to a shift in the scope of the book, and this shift very much reflects several changes in the state of knowledge and research on the biota of this island in general, and amphibians and reptiles in particular.
At the time of writing the first and second editions the knowledge on most amphibians and reptiles of Madagascar was largely based on the studies of relatively few herpetologists, who often provided comprehensive accounts and revisions (e.g., the works of C. P. Blanc, R. Blommers-Schlösser, E. R. Brygoo, and C. Domergue).
Since approximately 1990, a new research era started in Madagascar. Large-scale surveys and species inventories were carried out by a new generation of more numerous researchers in many areas of Madagascar, including well-known sites and hitherto unexplored, remote regions. Important collections were made and provided the basis for taxonomic revisions of many groups, leading to a spectacular increase in the number of recognized species of amphibians and reptiles. Compared to 1994, when 170 described species of amphibians and 290 species of reptiles were known from Madagascar, these numbers are now at 235 and 370 (as of July 2007), not counting about 150 undescribed species of frogs and 50 species of reptiles which have already been identified. Consequently, we predict that for at least another 20 years the completion of the basic taxonomic inventory of Madagascar's amphibians and reptiles will not be achieved.
A further change that needs to be noted is the more cooperative nature of more recent studies. Today, teams of field biologists, museum scientists, and molecular biologists, are teaming up in joint research projects and publications. By combining their efforts they achieve a more integrative view on the systematics and biology of Malagasy amphibians and reptiles. Increasingly, the research teams also include Malagasy students and researchers, and a whole set of recent species inventories, e.g., those known as the "Rap Gasy" program, has been carried out by teams of only Malagasy researchers, leading to remarkable collections.
Summarizing, recent years have seen a general speeding up and broad diversification of herpetological work in Madagascar, like with many other groups of organisms from the island. Application of molecular techniques has the potential of further scaling up the speed of discovery because standardized molecular methods such as DNA barcoding will allow direct and unambiguous comparisons between inventory results obtained by different research teams. The application of these new methods has clearly shown that many or even most species definitions hitherto applied to the Madagascan herpetofauna are insufficient. Consequently, almost all taxonomic groups are in need of a comprehensive revision and much of the available information can no longer reliably be attributed to a certain species.
Producing a field guide in these times thus will necessarily lead to a highly transitional product, as also emphasized by Mittermeier et al. (2006) for their lemur guide. Thus it became obvious to us that it would be impossible to summarize all the complex and heterogeneous knowledge about each of the 600 or so herp species in this book. Furthermore, the time available for writing was rather limited. Therefore, we have reduced the descriptive aspects and instead increased the number of colour pictures. The emphasis is now on identification, not description or revision, although we are aware that a simple and straightforward determination to the species level is not possible in many cases. For the sake of easier use we present the species accounts opposite to the page with the pictures of the corresponding species which means that, for lay out purposes, the descriptive texts are sometimes more extensive and sometimes reduced to the very basic characters of the species. Distributional information is given as maps but also as locality lists, but the selection of records that we considered as reliable enough to be included was a subjective one. Sonagrams [sic] and extensive descriptions of frog calls are not included; however, an extensive collection of frog sounds from Madagascar, including about 250 species has recently published in a set of three compact discs (Vences et al. 2006). Tadpole descriptions have also been excluded because too few tadpoles are known to allow for their reliable identification to species. In the framework of a comprehensive project we are at present identifying tadpoles based on their DNA sequences and describing them in a standardized way, which will allow for a more complete treatment of these larval stages in subsequent publications.
Few issues have evoked such a controversial echo as the inclusion, in the second edition of this Field Guide, of chapters on mammals and freshwater fishes of Madagascar. Several readers and users of the book, whether students, researchers or herp breeders, were enthusiastic about this overview of two other major groups of the vertebrate fauna, while the comments of others were negative. At the time of writing the second edition, in early 1994, no field guide was available on the mammals of Madagascar, although a lemur guide was published simultaneously (Mittermeier et al. 1994). While books on mammals are now available (Garbutt 1999, Mittermeier et al. 2006), there still is no comprehensive treatment allowing identification, be it preliminary, of the freshwater fishes. We still believe that a short overview of these groups might be a useful addition to this book, and especially to its Malagasy translation, and therefore expanded the introduction to allow a photographic summary of their most important representatives.
Despite the many compromises that were necessary for the 1994 field guide, it has intensively been used by researchers, students, ecotourists, and hobbyists, especially as basis for amphibian and reptile identification in surveys and inventories. We hope that the present third edition will be able to play this role as well, and will thus further stimulate the exploration and conservation of Madagascar's unique herpetofauna.
The authors. Köln (Cologne), October 2007