Why Golden Frog Chose to Collaborate with the Rescue Project

Guest blog post from our friends at Golden Frog

We’re thrilled to be supporting the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project and their efforts to save the critically endangered Panamanian golden frog. As you might guess from our name, we have a strong connection to the Panamanian golden frog—our company was actually named after the golden frog! Below we’ll explain why this cause is so near and dear to our hearts, and the story behind our name.

The Golden Frog Story

At Golden Frog, we believe in a free and open Internet experience for all. We create products to offer users online privacy, security and freedom, and we fight for what we believe in. We were named after the Panamanian golden frog, and our story goes like this:

Golden Frog Co-CEOs Ron and Carolyn Yokubaitis were Peace Corps volunteers in Brazil during the late 1960s. While travelling through Central America after their service they stopped in Panama, where they visited the Golden Frog Coffee Bar. Back in the United States, Ron and Carolyn went on to raise five sons and found several Internet businesses over the years.

In 2008 they returned to Panama for the Latin American Internet Conference, and wondered if the Golden Frog Coffee Bar was still around. The coffee bar was no longer in business, but they discovered a fun fact: the golden frog is the national animal of Panama. Even better, they learned that the golden frog also has a very unique way of communicating with other frogs – it waves to them! They decided to name their newest Internet business after the Panamanian golden frog.

Today Golden Frog stands for online freedom, privacy and security, and embodies the same passion and freedom as in 1970 when Ron and Carolyn first discovered the Golden Frog Coffee Bar. Through our products and our advocacy, we continue to fight for causes we believe in and to support groups fighting for these important causes.

One of 2,000 captive Panamanian Golden Frogs managed in captivity by the Golden Frog Species Survival Plan and the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore Photo: Brian Gratwicke Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Why We’re Supporting This Cause

Among all the good causes out there, there are several reasons we choose to support the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. First off, we see a strong mission alignment with the Smithsonian. Their mission is “the increase and diffusion of knowledge” and our mission is to “provide people with privacy, security and access to a free and open Internet.” As the Smithsonian helps spread knowledge, we help people access information and share knowledge by communicating freely online around the world.

Additionally, one of our core values is “advocacy is important,” meaning we go beyond just selling a product and actively get involved in advocating for policies and issues that we care about. Alongside our many privacy and security policy efforts, we work to support causes we care about – the Panamanian golden frog that inspired our name being one of them.

And, of course, we have the connection to our company’s name.

We hope you’ll join us in supporting this cause, and you can get involved by making a donation now.

If you’re interested in learning more about Golden Frog’s mission for a free and open Internet, please check out our vision paper.

Join us as together we Fight for Frogs

Brian swabs frogs in the field_Brian GratwickeFrogs matter. As a kid in nursery school, I remember observing tadpoles metamorphose into froglets right before our eyes in the classroom. It was like watching a magic trick over and over again. As I grew more interested in these cool little creatures, I learned that some frogs reproduce using pouches, others by swallowing their own eggs and regurgitating their young, others still by laying eggs that hatch directly into little froglets. It was like discovering not one magic trick, but an entire magical world—except this world was no illusion, it was real. My formative experiences both in the classroom and out rummaging around cold rainy ponds at night with my best friend and a headlamp spurred me into a career in the biological sciences. They also instilled in me a deep appreciation for the incredible diversity of life.

Panamanian golden frog_Brian GratwickeToday I am focused on conserving that incredible diversity specifically among amphibians in Panama, which is home to an astounding 214 amphibian species. Or at least it was. When a deadly amphibian chytrid fungus swept through, nine species disappeared entirely, including the country’s national animal, the beautiful Panamanian golden frog.

graphical abstractSince 2009, the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project has spearheaded efforts to bring at-risk species into rescue pods to ride out the storm while we work on finding a cure. We’ve worked with partners to conduct several experiments in search of a cure and to better understand why some frogs resist infection and others do not. We have built new facilities that house highly endangered species of amphibians as part of a bigger global push to create an “Amphibian Ark.” These efforts and those of our colleagues around the world give me profound hope for our amphibian friends.

But we need your help.

Although frogs are the orchestral backdrop to every pond and forest, frogs have no voice to represent themselves, and they certainly can’t write checks. It’s up to professional conservationists, including the rescue project’s 12 talented conservationists in Panama, to save frogs so that others can enjoy them. This, however, requires money. From now until the end of August, our generous sponsor Golden Frog—a global online services provider with a terrific name—will match donations to the rescue project up to $20,000, helping us raise money critical to our fight for frogs. Your donations during the Fight for Frogs campaign will buy us equipment to care for the frogs in the rescue pods, help us continue to conduct experiments to find a cure, ensure crucial breakthroughs, and ultimately one day see the return of these incredible species to their home in the wild.

Together, let’s make a stand. Together, let’s #FightForFrogs.

The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project is a project partnership between the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the Houston Zoo, Zoo New England and Smithsonian Institution. You can follow the Fight for Frogs campaign on Twitter using the #FightForFrogs hashtag or on the rescue project’s Facebook page.

Update on Golden Frog Conservation Plan Implementation

I am pleased to distribute the Reporte del Taller de Conservación de las Ranas Doradas de Panamá in its official version in Spanish.

golden frog report

The Panamanian golden frog conservation group met in El Valle de Anton in November 2013 to identify and address critical issues necessary to preserve the golden frogs of Panama, foster collaboration and exchange of information, and develop an action plan to expand conservation efforts with a future view.

With the mission of “saving a national treasure, returning the golden frog back to nature”, the group has made significant progress in the management of captive populations, disease, habitat, population viability analysis (PVA) and communication and collaboration.

These are some of the most important achievements:
1. The management of captive populations of golden frogs in Panama and the United States has combined efforts to improve husbandry and increase breeding of their most valuable individuals. EVACC has had a substantial reproduction success in recent years. And the use of technologies of cryopreservation and hormonal treatment is being developed by our partners to improve breeding success.

2. Approximately ten research groups and disease management work in a wide range of projects that generate valuable information about the characteristics and epidemiology of Bd; virulence and transmission; natural defenses and immune response; and frog’s heritability of resistance and/or tolerance to disease, among many others.

3. Rescue missions and diseases monitoring in the wild continue at historic distribution sites of golden frogs. The Project Atelopus found four populations of Atelopus varius in nature and continue the search for other survivor populations.

4. The first PVA is being developed by members of the group under the same name. Leading scientists in natural history, behavior, habitat requirements, captive breeding, and disease modeling participated in a workshop for prioritizing research projects that will provide feedback to these programs.

5. For three consecutive years the group has had regular meetings where progress is reviewed, challenges are identified and solutions are discussed within each working group. They have produced documents published and distributed in scientific journals, major conservation websites such as the red list of endangered species of the IUCN, zoos and aquariums, decision-making organizations and outreach materials for schools and environmental education programs.

6. A strong education component has generated attention and awareness of the general public through activities such as The Golden Frog Festival and its many venues.

Amphibian conservation efforts in Panama are mainly led by Panamanians supported by international funding agencies and donors. One of the project aims is to get more Panamanian investment for conservation while continuing in-country capacity building and support for the reinforcement of conservation laws.

Angie Estrada, Coordinator of the Golden Frog Conservation Plan

Meet 9 of Panama’s ‘Lost Frogs’

The deadly amphibian chytrid fungus has caused much devastation to Panama’s native frogs, salamanders and caecilians. We have learned a lot about this disease in the last 10 years and we have been able to take stock of its effects. A recent survey of Panamanian frog experts revealed that of Panama’s 214 described amphibian species, about 100 species can still be reliably found even in places where the chytrid fungus is found, and experts consider these species less susceptible to the fungus. Approximately 80 species are very rare, and we simply do not have any idea about their susceptibility to chytridiomycosis, or their current population numbers. 36 species were considered highly susceptible to the chytrid fungus and were once reliably encountered but have experienced, or are predicted to experience, severe chytridiomycosis-related declines.
Unfortunately a number of these species have already completely disappeared in the wild and have not been seen in many years. We call these Panama’s ‘lost frogs’.

1) Atelopus chiriquiensis – Chiriquí harlequin frog
These attractive diurnal frogs were appealing research subjects and occurred in high numbers in highlands on the border of Costa Rica and Panama. There are many scientific papers about this species, and they were primarily studied for their highly toxic tetradotoxins in their skin as well as their unique signaling and aggressive mating behavior. A study by Dr. Karen Lips in the las Tablas reserve of Costa Rica reports that they occurred in high numbers – up to 20 individuals seen in 100m of stream on a single visit, but the frogs experienced a severe chytridiomycosis-related decline over a 5-year period and were last seen in 1996.

A pair of Atelopus chiriquiensis in amplexus. Photo (c) Marcos Guerra, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

A pair of Atelopus chiriquiensis in amplexus. Photo (c) Marcos Guerra, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

2) Atelopus zeteki – Panamanian golden frog
This is Panama’s national amphibian, a charismatic emblem of the environment and conservation. August 14th is a dedicated national day to honor the golden frog as a symbol for Panama’s incredible biodiversity heritage. Recognizing the chytridiomycosis threat, a conservation project called Project Golden Frog established a healthy breeding colony of golden frogs at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, another colony is maintained in Panama at the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center. As predicted, Panamanian golden frogs experienced severe chytridiomycosis-related declines starting in 2006, and the last confirmed observation of Panamanian golden frog in the wild was in 2009. Project Atelopus continues to survey known golden frog sites for survivors, and a detailed conservation plan has been developed by stakeholders and facilitated by the IUCN Species Survival Commission for golden frogs in Panama. The plan aims to eventually reintroduce them to the wild.

One of 2,000 captive Panamanian Golden Frogs managed in captivity by the Golden Frog Species Survival Plan and the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore Photo: Brian Gratwicke Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

One of 2,000 captive Panamanian golden frogs managed in captivity by the Golden Frog Species Survival Plan and the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore Photo: (cc) Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

3) Craugastor obesus
This species was found in the spray zone on rocks, boulders in the Atlantic-facing slopes of Western Panama and Costa Rica. The species was last recorded from Costa Rica in 1984 rainforest. This species belongs to the Craugastor rugulosus group and all these closely related species of amphibians have all been have been decimated by the amphibian chytrid fungus.
4) Craugastor punctariolus
This semi aquatic species was found in mountainous streams of Central Panama. Rapid chytridiomycosis-related declines and disappearances were observed in the field in 2004-2008. This species belongs to the Craugastor rugulosus group and all these closely related species of amphibians have been decimated by the amphibian chytrid fungus. Genetic analysis revealed that it is likely a species complex. It has been maintained in captivity, and occasionally deposited eggs that were either infertile or did not develop fully and a viable captive population was not established.

Craugastor punctariolus, Bob's Robber Frog at the El valle Amphibian Conservation Center, photo (c) Kevin Johnson Amph

Craugastor punctariolus, Bob’s Robber Frog at the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC) photo (c) Kevin Johnson Amphibian Ark

5) Craugastor rhyacobatrachus
This species is found in premontane and lower montane southern slopes of the Talamanca Mountains of Costa Rica and western Panama. Despite extensive searches for this species in both Costa Rica and Panama, there are no recent records of this species. This species belongs to the Craugastor rugulosus group and all these closely related species of amphibians have all been have been decimated by the amphibian chytrid fungus.
6) Incilius majordomus
Males of this species were lemon yellow, and females were brown, the only other known toad of this genus that exhibited similar sexual dimorphism was Incilius peringelis—the famous Monte Verde Golden Toad of Costa Rica that is now extinct. Incilius majordomus is known only from the Pacific slope of Cerro Bollo, on the border between the provinces of Bocas del Toro and Chiriquí. This species was described in 2013 using a series of specimens collected in 1980. It has not been seen in the wild since 1980 despite extensive herpetological surveys in the area.

Incilius majordomus type specimen © Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Amphibians & Reptiles

Incilius majordomus type specimen © Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Amphibians & Reptiles

7) Isthmohyla calypsa
A  treefrog frog covered with spiny tubercles found in a small mountainous area on the border of Costa Rica and Panama where is used to be locally common. At las Tablas in Costa Rica, the species experienced severe chytridiomycosis-related declines between 1993 and 1998. Despite extensive recent survey efforts in Costa Rica and Panama, the species has not been seen recently and is possibly extinct. Many other stream breeding species in this genus have also experienced dramatic declines and are now extremely rare frogs.

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Isthmohyla calypsa in the wild, Photo (c) Marcos Guerra, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

8) Ecnomiohyla rabborum – Rabbs’ fringe-limbed treefrog
Rabbs’ treefrog is thought to be endemic to the vicinity of El Valle de Anton, where it was always a rare frog difficult to find as they live high in trees and breed in tree holes. Experienced herpetologists could hear their calls reliably at some places, but the last individual was heard in El Valle de Anton in 2008. A few individuals of this species were collected for captive breeding efforts at the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center and at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, but captive breeding efforts were unsuccessful. As of 2015 only a single individual persists in captivity at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.

Ecnomiohyla rabborum - Rabb's Fringe-Limbed Frog at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Photo (c) Brad Wilson

Ecnomiohyla rabborum, Rabb’s fringe-limbed  tree frog at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Photo (c) Brad Wilson

9) Oophaga speciosa – Splendid poison frog
This large, unmistakable bright red dart frog lives only in the mountains of Western Panama. It was once collected for the pet trade, and was exported as recently as 1992. This species has not been seen in the wild in many years, despite intensive searches. It is not known whether it still lives in captivity, but has probably disappeared from the wild.

Oophaga speciosa, the Splendid poison dart frog. Photo (c) Marcos Guerra, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Oophaga speciosa, the Splendid poison dart frog. Photo (c) Marcos Guerra, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

If you have any recent records of these missing species please let us know, and consider uploading your record to the global amphibian bioblitz on inaturalist.

by Brian Gratwicke

*WE ARE SEEKING VOLUNTEERS TO HELP TRANSLATE OCCASIONAL AMPHIBIANRESCUE.ORG WEB PAGES INTO SPANISH, IF YOU ARE WILLING TO HELP US OUT OCCASIONALLY, PLEASE EMAIL Gratwickeb[AT]si.edu FOR MORE INFORMATION.

Surveying amphibian skin bacteria in Panamá

Amphibians are dying all over the world due to chytridiomycosis. This disease, caused by Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), is responsible for dramatic amphibian declines and extinctions in the Neotropics, including Panamanian tropical forests.

We are a research team that is part of an NSF project investigating microbial diversity on frog skin in Panama. This team includes three principal investigators (Lisa Belden, Reid Harris and Kevin Minbiole), three postdoctoral fellows (Eria Rebollar, Myra Hughey and Tom Umile) and several graduate and undergraduate students from James Madison University, Virginia Tech, Villanova University and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. We are interested in understanding how microbial communities from amphibian skin might contribute to the survival of amphibian species that have persisted in the wild despite the presence of Bd. Since 2012, we have collected samples from multiple sites in lowland tropical forests to describe the factors that shape skin microbial communities in tropical amphibians, including the presence of the pathogen Bd.

The author in Panama, 2013

The author in Panama, 2013

We  recently published a study on the skin microbiota of five species of tropical amphibians from one of the few sites in Panamá where amphibians have not been infected with Bd, called Serranía del Sapo, in the Darién Province. In the summer of 2012, Myra Hughey, Roberto Ibáñez and Daniel Medina collected skin swab samples from this lowland site of highly susceptible and less-susceptible species, including two highly threatened species: Atelopus certus and Strabomantis bufoniformis. When we analyzed the bacterial species present on the skin of these five amphibian species we found that amphibians had a unique microbiota on the skin that was very distinct from the bacterial communities in the environment. These symbiotic bacteria were not only different from the environment, but were also different among the amphibian species. Interestingly we found that the three less Bd-susceptible species that we studied (Craugastor fitzingeri, Espadarana prosoblepon and Colosthetus panamansis) had a common set of bacteria that was not present on the two highly susceptible species (A. certus and S. bufoniformis).

Atelopus certus, thought to be a species susceptible to Bd. Photo (c) Joel Sartore

Atelopus certus, thought to be a species susceptible to Bd. Photo (c) Joel Sartore

We think that the bacteria present in the less-susceptible species might be playing a defensive role against pathogens like Bd. If these bacteria indeed have antifungal properties, what are the factors determining the presence of these antifungal bacteria on the skin of less susceptible species? To pursue this idea, we compared the microbial communities of C. fitzingeri in the Darién region with skin communities from regions where the frogs were infected with Bd, in Colón and Panamá provinces (Mamoní, Soberanía and Gamboa). We found that the skin bacterial communities in the infected regions had an increased proportion of bacterial species like Pseudomonas and members of the Actinomycetes. Interestingly, these bacteria are known for their antifungal activities in other amphibians, and therefore it is possible that they might be playing an important role in Bd resistance. Since other factors could be influencing these communities, we are currently analyzing experimental data to determine if Bd infection is driving these changes in the skin microbiota.

How can we use the information we have gathered to protect amphibians that do not have high proportions of Pseudomonas and Actinomycetes on their skins? Can we culture these bacteria and study their antifungal properties? We are currently analyzing cultured microbes from less susceptible species to determine if they have anti-Bd properties in vitro. If these microbes are indeed effective against Bd, can we use them as skin probiotics for the highly susceptible species? Probiotics are a very promising avenue towards conservation of susceptible amphibians since the skin microbiota has already been manipulated in some species to protect them from Bd. However a lot of additional studies still need to be done to implement this approach successfully.

Publications

Belden LK, Hughey MC, Rebollar EA, Umile TP, Loftus SC, Burzynski EA, Minbiole KPC, House LL, Jensen RV, Becker MH, Walke JB, Medina D, Ibáñez R and Harris RN (2015) Panamanian frog species host unique skin bacterial communities. Front. Microbiol. 6:1171. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2015.01171

Rebollar EA, Hughey MZ, Medina D, Harris RN,  Ibáñez R and Belden LK (2015) Skin bacterial diversity of Panamanian frogs is associated with host susceptibility and presence of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. ISME Journal. doi:10.1038/ismej.2015.234

by Eria Rebollar

New Amphibian Study Helps Smithsonian Scientists Prioritize Frogs at Risk of Extinction

graphical abstractScientists at the Smithsonian Institution and partners have published a paper that will help them save Panamanian frog species from extinction due to a deadly fungal disease called Chytridiomycosis (chytrid). The study, which was published Jan. 4 in Animal Conservation, draws on the expertise of amphibian biologists and scientists the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project to mathematically determine which frog species have the best probability of escaping extinction with the rescue project’s help.
“We don’t want to arbitrarily decide which species lives and which species don’t, nor do we want to waste our time on species that don’t need our help,” said Brian Gratwicke, co-author on the paper and international coordinator of the rescue project out of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. “This study took into account the differences in opinions among amphibian experts in Panama and found consensus in a systematic away. This has allowed us to focus on the species where we have the best chance of making a difference.”

The study also found that eight Panamanian species are likely now extinct in the wild due to disease-related declines. About 80 of Panama’s frog species were too rare for conservationists to prioritize their need for help or the likelihood of successful rescue. The new prioritization scheme, however, will allow the scientists to adapt to new information as it becomes available.

“Over the years, several frog populations—and even species—have vanished or nearly vanished from Panama,” said Roberto Ibáñez, the in-country director of the rescue project at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, “Unfortunately, it is impossible to save them all through conservation programs. With this study, we can focus our limited resources on those species that we are more likely to find in the wild and breed in captivity, while we simultaneously look for a way to manage chytrid.”

Since 2009, the rescue project has been building and maintaining insurance populations of frog species susceptible to chytrid, bringing small groups into captivity to breed as the species crashes in the wild. For each of Panama’s 214 known frog species, the paper’s authors asked amphibian experts to determine the probability that: 1) the rescue project could locate an adequate founding population (20 males and 20 females), 2) the rescue project could successfully breed the species and 3) without the rescue project’s help, the species would go extinct.

While most of the rescue project’s original priority species ranked high based on the new prioritization scheme, the conservationists have already started making some changes. They have determined that the likelihood of successfully breeding La Loma tree frogs (Hyloscirtus colymba) is low and they are instead shifting resources to the recently discovered Craugastor evanesco and the Rusty robber frog (Strabomantis bufoniformis), both of which came up as high priorities.

The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project is a project partnership between the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the Houston Zoo, Zoo New England and Smithsonian Institution.

Fifth Annual Golden Frog Day Calendar of Activities (2015)

Golden frog festival calendar of events

FRIDAY 14 August
GAMBOA AMPHIBIAN RESCUE CENTER OPEN HOUSE
Corner of Morrow and Jadwin, Gamboa.
Time: 1-4pm
Get a behind the scenes tour of the Gamboa Amphibian Rescue Center

SATURDAY 15 August
Golden EL VALLE DE ANTON, PASEO EL VALLE
Times: Saturday: 11:00am-3:00pm
Educational activities refreshments and games hosted by the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center and the Golden Frog Mascott.

SUNDAY 16 August
PUNTA CULEBRA NATURE CENTER, AMADOR
#RANATICOS day
Time: 11 am – 4pm
Meet the golden frog mascott, tour an exhibition of Panama’s most beautiful frogs, games activities and refreshments.

WEDNESSDAY AUG 19
NIGHT FROGS at the BIOMUSEO, AMADOR
Time: 7-10PM
Frog raffle, photo booth, exhibition and talk with frog experts.

SATURDAY AUGUST 22
MULTIPLAZA PACIFIC MALL, PANAMA CITY
Time: 11AM- 5PM
Face painting, frog jumping, photobooth and acrobatics by La Tribu.

SUNDAY AUGUST 30
GOLDEN FROG RUN, EL VALLE DE ANTON
Time: 7AM, starting at Hotel Campestre
Register for a race for golden frogs hosted by Caminando Panama.

Presented by: Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Fundacion Smithsonian, El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, La Rana Dorada Pub, SENACYT, USAID, National Science Foundation, APRADAP, Uber, Biomuseo, Oferta simple, Live animals, Stratego , Multiplaza Pacifico, North Face, Caminando Panama.

La Dorada 5/10/15K trail run 2015

dorada_race

To celebrate the Golden Frog Festival and the conservation of amphibians in Panama you are invited to join us for ‘la Dorada’ 5K /10K /15K run in the beautiful mountains of El Valle de Anton.

The race will be on Sunday August 30 in El Valle de Anton. This annual event is in its second year, organized and hosted by Caminando Panama the North Face and the Smithsonian. Some of the routes have changed, so stay tuned and visit the event facebook page for updates.

Register from July 26 at The North Face – Multiplaza Mall or Hushpuppies Soho – Albrook Mall in Panama City.

New Rescue Lab for Endangered Amphibians Opens in Panama

Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) scientists working together as part of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project (PARC) opened a new safe haven for endangered amphibians today, April 8. The state-of-the-art, $1.2 million amphibian center at STRI’s Gamboa field station  expands on the capacity of the El Valle amphibian conservation center to implement a national strategy to conserve Panama’s amphibian biodiversity by creating captive assurance populations. Together these form the largest dedicated facility for amphibian conservation in Latin America.

Gamboa Amphibian Research and Conservation CenterPanama is a biodiversity hotspot for amphibians with more than 200 species of frogs, salamanders and caecilians. For the past 20 years, however, many of Panama’s unique and endemic amphibian species have declined or disappeared as a result of the deadly chytrid fungus that has spread throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. In fact, a third of amphibian species in Panama are considered threatened or endangered. Amphibian conservationists around the world have been working to establish captive populations of the world’s most vulnerable amphibian species to safeguard them from extinction.

Side view of facility“Our biggest challenge in the race to save tropical amphibians has been the lack of capacity,” said Brian Gratwicke, amphibian scientist at SCBI and international coordinator of PARC. “This facility will allow us to do so much more. We now have the space needed to safeguard some of Panama’s most vulnerable and beautiful amphibians and to conduct the research needed to reintroduce them back to the wild.”

The center features a working lab for scientists, a quarantine space for frogs collected from the wild and amphibian rescue pods capable of holding up to 10 species of frogs. In the working lab, SCBI scientists will continue research focusing on things like a cure for chytrid. Seven amphibianrescue pods house the amphibian collection and colonies of insects needed to feed them. Amphibian rescue pods are constructed from recycled shipping containers that were once used to move frozen goods around the world and through the Panama Canal; they have been retrofitted to become mini-ecosystems with customized terrariums for each frog species.

Gamboa Amphibian Research and Conservation Center“Our project is helping implement the action plan for amphibian conservation in Panama, authored by Panama’s National Environmental Authority—now Environment Ministry—in 2011,” said Roberto Ibañez, STRI project director for PARC. “This is only possible thanks to the interest in conservation of amphibian biodiversity by the government of Panama and the support we have received from businesses in Panama.”

The new rescue lab will be crucial to ongoing breeding efforts and breakthroughs, such as the successful hatching of an Andinobates geminisae froglet. SCBI and STRI scientists hatched the first A. geminisae froglet in human care in one of the amphibian rescue pods at the existing Gamboa amphibian conservation center. The tiny poison frog species, smaller than a dime, was discovered and described for the first time in Panama in 2014. They simulated breeding conditions in a rescue pod. The new facility will provide much-needed space to grow and expand, allowing them to build assurance populations for many more species. A small exhibition niche provides a window directly into an active rescue pod, where visitors can see rescued frogs and scientists as they work to conserve these endangered frogs.Exhibition niche where visitors can glimpse inside a pod

PARC is a partnership between the Houston Zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Zoo New England, SCBI and STRI. Funding for the new facilities was provided by Defenders of Wildlife, Frank and Susan Mars, Minera Panama, the National Science Foundation and USAID.

As a research facility, PARC is not open to the public. However, there are interpretive panels and a window into the research pod where visitors can get a glimpse of the project in action. To learn more, the public is welcome to visit the new Fabulous Frogs of Panama exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Punta Culebra Nature Center, located on the Amador Causeway.

Golden frogs with unique communities of skin bacteria survive exposure to frog-killing fungus  

Chytridiomycosis is an amphibian disease that has wiped out populations of many frog species around the world, including the charismatic Panamanian golden frog, which now exists only in captivity in the United States and Panama.

Research published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society found unique communities of skin bacteria on golden frogs that survived chytridiomycosis. The original experiment was designed to test the idea that antifungal probiotic bacteria may be used to prevent chytridiomycosis in captive golden frogs. Approximately 25 percent of the golden frogs eventually cleared infection, but their survival was not associated with the probiotic treatment, rather it was associated with bacteria that were present on their skin prior to the start of the experiment. In fact, the probiotic antifungal bacteria did not appear to establish on the golden frog skin at all.

Study authors Matt Becker and Shawna Cikanek work to inoculate frogs with beneficial bacteriaMatthew Becker, a fellow at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute who conducted the experiment as part of his PhD research at Virginia Tech University, says it is unclear why the microbes did not linger on the skin, but he thinks that the way he treated the frogs – with a high dose of bacteria for a short duration – may be part of the reason.

“I think identifying alternative probiotic treatment methods that optimize dosages and exposure times will be key for moving forward with the use of probiotics to mitigate chytridiomycosis,” Becker said.

Brian Gratwicke, amphibian conservation biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute where the experiment was conducted, says that he was disappointed that they did not find a ‘silver bullet’ to cure chytridiomycosis in this species, but noted that the results do advance our understanding of this disease.

“Previous experiments found that golden frogs are highly susceptible to chytridiomycosis, so any survival is cause for hope,” said Reid Harris, director of disease mitigation at the Amphibian Survival Alliance. “The tricky piece is figuring out the survival mechanism, and this exciting research gives some new insights in that direction.”

This research also provides additional support for the importance of symbiotic microbes, or the ‘microbiome,’ for the health of their hosts, ranging from sponges and corals to humans.

“In all multi-cellular organisms, we have suites of microbes performing critical functions for their hosts, and the same appears to be true for golden frogs,” said Lisa Belden, who supervised the study at Virginia Tech University.

The team, led by Becker, now plans to determine if this study is repeatable by investigating whether the golden frog’s skin microbiota can predict the susceptibility to chytridiomycosis. They will also investigate whether the bacteria associated with the surviving frogs from this study can be used as a probiotic treatment to prevent infections of golden frogs without a ‘protective’ microbiota.

“The ultimate goal of this research is to identify a method to establish healthy populations of golden frogs in their native habitat, despite the presence of chytridiomycosis in the environment,” Becker said.

Citation: Matthew H. Becker, Jenifer B. Walke, Shawna Cikanek, Anna E. Savage, Nichole Mattheus, Celina N. Santiago, Kevin P. C. Minbiole, Reid N. Harris, Lisa K. Belden, Brian Gratwicke (2015) Composition of symbiotic bacteria predicts survival in Panamanian golden frogs infected with a lethal fungus. Proc. R. Soc. B: 2015 282 20142881; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.2881. Published 18 March 2015