BACKGROUND:Higher-level systematics in amphibians is relatively stable. However, recent phylogenetic studies of African torrent-frogs have uncovered high divergence in these phenotypically and ecologically similar frogs, in particular between West African torrent-frogs versus Central (Petropedetes) and East African (Arthroleptides and Ericabatrachus) lineages. Because of the considerable molecular divergence, and external morphology of the single West African torrent-frog species a new genus was erected (Odontobatrachus). In this study we aim to clarify the systematic position of West African torrent-frogs (Odontobatrachus). We determine the relationships of torrent-frogs using a multi-locus, nuclear and mitochondrial, dataset and include genera of all African and Asian ranoid families. Using micro-tomographic scanning we examine osteology and external morphological features of West African torrent-frogs to compare them with other ranoids.RESULTS:Our analyses reveal Petropedetidae (Arthroleptides, Ericabatrachus, Petropedetes) as the sister taxon of the Pyxicephalidae. The phylogenetic position of Odontobatrachus is clearly outside Petropedetidae, and not closely related to any other ranoid family. According to our time-tree estimation Odontobatrachus has been separated from other frog lineages since the Cretaceous (90.1 Ma; confidence interval: 84.2-97.1 Ma). Along with this molecular evidence, osteological and external diagnostic characters recognize West African torrent-frogs as distinct from other ranoids and provide strong support for the necessity of the recognition of a new family of frogs. This is the only endemic vertebrate family occurring in the Upper Guinea biodiversity hotspot. CONCLUSION:Based on molecular and morphological distinctiveness, the West African torrent-frog Odontobatrachus natator is allocated to a newly described anuran family. The discovery of an endemic vertebrate family in West Africa highlights the Upper Guinean forests as an outstanding, but highly endangered biodiversity hotspot
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