A Yellow-spotted Bell Frog. Photo: Michael McFadden

Some great news was reported during the past week here in Australia – the rediscovery after 30 years of the Yellow-spotted Bell Frog (Litoria castanea). Researchers from the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water confirmed the sighting of the species in the Southern Highlands, south of Sydney.

Six tadpoles have been collected and have been taken to Taronga Zoo, where they will form the founders of what zoo staff hope will be a successful breeding program, eventuating in the release of captive-bred animals back to the wild. Taronga Zoo staff have been involved in serveal highly successful breeding programs for other amphibian species, including the Southern Corroboree Frog, Spotted Tree Frog,  Booroolong Frog, and the Green and Golden Bell Frog.

This discovery is really exciting news – something that is refreshing amongst the world-wide decline of amphibians. We mustn’t forget though, that amphibians around the world need our help to prevent further extinctions.

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Rhinoderma darwinii. Photo by Mono Andes

Rhinoderma darwinii. Photo by Mono Andes

Just back from a very quick but productive trip to Santiago and Concepcion to see the current breeding facilities for Darwin’s Frog Rhinoderma darwinii. This unique species was historically found in many places in Chile and Argentina but habitat loss and other pressures have worked to dwindle its numbers. The only other species of Darwin’s Frog Rhinoderma rufum has not been seen in many years and continues to elude field researchers. Both exhibit forms of parental care with the male carrying tadpoles in it’s vocal sack.  

The National Zoo facility in Santiago is coming along really well. The building looks fantastic and will surely be a treat for visitors peering into the lab. Atlanta Botanical Gardens staff were there recently installing tanks and plumbing and Marcela and Mauricio are working hard to get things polished off. It will serve as an excellent facility for showcasing this important conservation effort and the commitments of the players to keep it going. I think they hope to start with a few specimens this winter if I recall. The Atlanta Botanical Garden has launched a website at  www.savedarwinsfrogs.org detailing their efforts on this project. 
The Concepcion facility is also looking good. Marcela Tirado and I visited for the day and by luck met up with Klaus Busse who was in town. Klaus offered much of his wonderful experience to Dr. Juan Carlos Ortiz and graduate student Carlos Barrientos who have been maintaining eleven animals there since April 09. I witnessed a very solid connection made between National Zoo and Concepcion staff regarding husbandry issues, food colonies, and overall collaboration on their programs.
My hunch is that they will reproduce them very soon, as we observed calling and amplexus all day! 
Click link below for video

Click link below for video

You have to see this video from BBC showing tadpoles swarming their mom to feast on her infertile eggs. This rare glimpse is something you wouldn’t be able to see if it weren’t for the captive breeding programs of organizations to save endangered species. It’s all connected to the umbrella program of Amphibian Ark.

Excerpts from the story:

The remarkable footage was recorded at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, in Jersey, which took in 12 of the rescued frogs. Twenty-six others went to Parken Zoo in Sweden, and 12 are now housed in ZSL London Zoo.

“We thought that the eggs would come out and drop to the bottom of the nest and then the tadpoles would start eating them. But the footage shows about 40 tadpoles congregating around the female and eating the eggs as they come out of the female’s body.”

From the American Airlines in flight magazine, American Way, a full feature on the amphibian crisis. Here’s nice excerpt mentioning Amphibian Ark:

The idea of the Amphibian Ark initiative is to get out in front of the population crashes and to collect healthy frogs, whisk them to safety, and establish breeding stocks — with the hope of reintroducing the species to the wild when the coast is clear. In Australia, scientists have modified shipping containers to create frog “clean rooms” in the field. In the United States, they’ve saved the Wyoming toad in captivity, but it has disappeared from the high plains, and reintroduced populations keep encountering the deadly fungus. Biologists are also rushing to respond as the fungus attacks the boreal toad in Colorado and the red-legged frog in California’s Sierra Nevada. And many more frog rescues are underway in Costa Rica and several other countries.

Full story HERE.

Figuring out the “why”, “how”, “how fast” and “where next” behind the mass extinctions facing amphibian species is what Dr. Karen Lips does for a living. Now with the University of Maryland (previously with Southern Illinois University), Dr. Lips is a forensic ecologist. Cool job description. She has been charting the path of the spread of the killer fungus chytrid, and helping people understand what happens to ecosystems when frogs disappear. Here’s a new story about her work: read HERE. Excerpts I found interesting:

Once chytrid hits a region, the amphibian population can be wiped out within four months.”The rate of spread is about 22 km/year, so we have less than five years before they are all gone,” Lips says, referring to the remaining frog populations in Central America where she has been working as a”forensic ecologist” to predict the spread of chytrid throughout Costa Rica and Panama over the past 10 years.

“Once amphibians are eliminated from an ecosystem, everything else changes,” she explains. “Snakes disappear, algae grows, sediments accumulate and affect water quality, we don’t know yet how many of these changes are irrevocable.”

What Jennifer Holland has reported in National Geographic is one of the best summaries of the amphibian crisis I have read. The photos are beautiful, the anecdotes fresh and unforgettable. You need to read it. Click HERE.

Kevin Zippel, program officer for Amphibian Ark, shared with me a recent paper he helped author with other frog-erati of the herpetology world, all of them associated with the Herpetologists Education Committee of the
Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAR)
. I know my daughters, when in elementary school, were thrilled when the classroom would adopt a snake or a guinea pig. What great lessons occur when a teacher instructs children how to care for an animal, and when children take turns providing that care. Now a movement is under foot to involve classrooms in the rescue and care of amphibians. A noble idea, but one fraught with danger if the amphibian were to catch a disease from a reused aquarium, and then is released back into the wild, introducing a dangerous new pathogen to a woodland area or pond.

Zippel and company overview the situation, and provide practical steps that teachers should take, in the paper you can access by clicking here.

I found it interesting that the authors go out of their way to not condemn the idea of bring amphibians into the classroom. Here’s an excerpt I particularly liked:

It was of primary importance to us not to simply squelch this classroom exercise for
reasons of risk avoidance. To us, this exercise is a great example of the spirit of
encouraging a collective public conscience of “bioliteracy” outlined so eloquently by
Ehrlich and Pringle (2008:11584):

“The earlier in the developmental process comes exposure to
nature, the better the odds of inspiring devotion to biodiversity
and its conservation. It is a rare conservationist who did not
encounter nature as a child. Every one of us can go to
elementary schools to show pictures of animals and plants and
tell funny stories about ecology. The teachers will be happy to
have us. More ambitious people might think about how to
finance and institutionalize school field trips to natural areas.”