The Recently Discovered Salamander-Devouring Fungus and Reasons for Concern for the Future the Salamander Biodiversity in the United States

appalachian salamandersEnigmatic Fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra) declines in the Netherlands have been attributed to the recently described fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bs). Since 2010, the S. salamandra population at Bunderbos, Netherlands has decreased by 96%. An Martel et al’s recent Science paper showed that some US salamander species are highly susceptible to Bs, confirmed its occurrence in the pet trade, and noted that it has not yet been detected in the US. Large numbers of live salamanders are legally imported into the US each year for the pet trade. In the first 6 months of 2014, for example, 3,445 fire salamanders imported into the US, mostly from Slovenia.

The genus Batrachochytrium, which before the discovery of Bs solely included Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), has gained an infamous reputation for global amphibian declines. Biologists believe that we are witnessing the sixth mass extinction in part because of the virulence and global spread of Bd among the world’s amphibians. The discovery of this new pathogen and our improved understanding of the ravaging effects of emerging wildlife disease raise concerns that US salamanders could share the same fate.

The US is a biodiversity hotspot for salamanders

Appalachia is a global salamander biodiversity hotspot (Source: http://www.biodiversitymapping.org/amphibians.htm)

Appalachia is a global salamander biodiversity hotspot (Source: http://www.biodiversitymapping.org/amphibians.htm)

The Appalachian Mountains are a renowned biodiversity hotspot for salamanders. The potential threat of this emerging pathogen in the US is therefore magnified, and it is imperative that we keep this disease out of the US. Salamander genetic diversity in the Appalachians is the highest in the world with 72 salamander species that are mostly endemic. The United States is home to nine out of ten salamander families and four of the ten extant salamander families are endemic to the United States including amphiumas, Pacific giant salamanders, torrent salamanders and sirens. Mole salamanders are also found in Canada and Mexico, but nearly all of their biodiversity is contained with U.S. borders. Giant salamanders are a primitive lineage of giant salamanders with three extant species, located in the U.S., Japan, and China. The hellbender is one of the giants and has found refuge in the Appalachian Mountains since amphibians originated, some 360 million years ago.

The ecological role of salamanders, the smaller majority, can often go unnoticed, but consider this biomass assessment of salamanders in Appalachia. One classic mark-recapture study in the eastern US noted “The biomass of salamanders is about twice that of birds during the bird’s peak breeding season and is about equal to the biomass of small mammals” (Burton and Likens 1975). With densities this high, a novel salamander-specific pathogen to which these animals have never been exposed have the potential be able to spread like wildfire, much like Bd spread through naïve Neotropical amphibian populations.

Immediate action is needed

We should immediately halt the importation of salamanders from any overseas sources, unless they can be certified free from Bs and Bd. In May 2008 the OIE, which is the organization created to mitigate zoonotic diseases (i.e., anthrax, mad cow disease, etc.), recognized Bd as a notifiable disease. Stricter trade regulations recommended by OIE would substantially reduce the spread of both Bs and Bd, however the OIE changes have not been adopted by the US Department of Agriculture and Interior and until doing so there are no legal means to reject infected shipments. A joint statement from the Amphibian Specialist Group and Amphibian Survival Alliance calls for immediate policy actions to stop the further spread of devastating wildlife diseases, and this time it is not too late to do something about it.

by Blake Klocke

Frog Friday: Toad Mountain Harlequin Frog

atelopus certus male calling

The toad mountain harlequin frog is all decked out in orange and black for Halloween! Atelopus certus is a biological treasure found only in Panama. This terrestrial species has a golden iridescent hue with spots like a giraffe. In its natural setting, the toad mountain harlequin frog can be found streamside or on mossy rocks in moist lowland and mountain forests.  We have a healthy population in captivity to safeguard against predicted chytridomycosis-related declines.

Atelopus certus  is endemic to Panama and identified only on a single mountain range in the south-western Darien region. Before 2011, this species was quite common within its small known range, and they were still abundant in 2013, but they are predicted to decline severely once chytridiomycosis arrives in that region. Thankfully, due to the swift action of the PARC project, Atelopus certus is being successfully reproduced in captivity. The Gamboa ARC has bred a very stable population 

Did you know? The Smithsonian Channel documentary “Mission Critical: Amphibian Rescue” recounts the valiant rescue effort to save this species from imminent extinction.

Post by Dara Wilson

Frog Friday: Granular Glass Frog

Aside

cochranella granulosa

Cochranella granulosa is a beautiful species with grey-gold eyes and a dark green, granular dorsal surface gives the frog a “crystal-like” appearance. This arboreal species can be found in humid lowlands and mountainous forest. They are usually spotted in bushes and trees along forest streams. Though the granular glass frog ranges from Honduras to Panama, it is more regularly encountered in Costa Rica and Panama, while sightings are rarely recorded in Honduras and Nicaragua. These nocturnal frogs can also be found sleeping on the leaves of bromeliads during the day in the exhibit Fabulous Frogs of Panama at Punta Culebra Nature Center. Though the frog is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Redlist due to its wide distribution, it still faces threats of severe habitat loss resulting from deforestation and water pollution.

Did you know? The word granulosa is derived from the Latin word granulum, which means small-grained or granular. This reference was drawn due to the granular bumps on the frog’s transparent skin. If you look at the frog from its underbelly, you can see right through its skin and get a great glimpse of its tiny organs!

Frog Friday: Red-Eyed Tree Frog

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder! The bright red eyes, and blue striped sides of Agalychnis callidryas are a defense mechanism the frog uses to surprise potential predators, and avoid predation. During the day the red-eyed tree frog folds its legs at its sides, closes its eyes, and sleeps, effectively camouflaging itself on green leaves. You can observe this behavior in their natural habitat  of low to mid-elevation rainforests from the Yucatan to Colombia.  They are considered a species of least concern according to the IUCN, and are abundant throughout their range. We also have these beauties on display in our exhibit Fabulous Frogs of Panama at Punta Culebra Nature Center.

Did you know? Red-eyed tree frogs lay their eggs on plants overhanging the wáter, and when they hatch the tadpoles fall into the wáter.  Eggs in the trees can be eaten by wasps, snakes, or katydids, or killed by pathogenic fungus. Embryos can hatch early to escape from attacks by egg predators and pathogens, or in response to abiotic threats, but they typically hatch later if undisturbed. Thus tadpoles enter the water at different ages, sizes and stages of development. Tadpoles that were induced to hatch early are more likely to be killed by aquatic predators and less likely to survive to metamorphosis. After a month or more in the water, the tadpoles metamorphose into froglets. Metamorphs on land remain relatively inactive near the pond while they absorb their tails, then climb up into the trees and disappear. We know very little about their lives as juveniles.

 

Snake induced hatching of red-eyed tree frogs.

Video and information by Karen Warkentin Lab

Post by Hannah Arney

Frog Friday: Limosa Harlequin Frog

Atelopus limosus - Limosa Harlequin Frog

Cute, crafty, and brightly patterned with yellow and black chevrons! The Limosa harlequin frog is a terrestrial species endemic to Central Panama that live in moist, tropical Atlantic forests. In the wild, you could once spot this species among the dark rocks or mossy patches on the banks of streams. It is here, in the fast-flowing rainforest streams that enthusiastic males call and use their characteristic hand-waving behavior to signal females or warn competing males to steer clear. If successful, a male attracts a female and embraces her in a behavior known as amplexus. They laytheir eggs in fast-flowing streams for good reasons. The shallow, swiftly flowing water protects the eggs and tadpoles from potential predators and once they emerge as tadpoles the tadpoles cling tightly to rocks using the suction disks on their bellies while they graze on diatoms and other algae that grow on stones in these clear, oxygen-rich environments.

This species is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Atelopus frog species’ have been hit hardest by the growing chytridomycosis epidemic. While deforestation of habitats for agricultural use and infrastructural development, stream sedimentation, and water pollution are also serious threats to Atelopus limosus, much of their range is in the Chagres National Park and scientists attribute the recent disappearances of this species to the emergence of amphibian chytrid fungus. Thankfully, the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project has brought the endangered species into captivity and successfully hosts a very fruitful breeding population – no small feat at all!

Did you know? The limosa harlequin frog has two color forms; the brown form with a yellow nose and yellow fingertips mostly found at lowland sites, while the green/yellow form with black chevrons is normally found in the highlands. If you’d like to get a look at one of these amazing creatures, you can see them on exhibit at the Punta Culebra Nature Center’s Fabulous Frogs of Panama!

by Dara Wilson, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project Volunteer

Scientists discover new poison dart frog species in Donoso, Panama

Andinobates geminisae

A bright orange poison dart frog with a unique call was discovered in Donoso, Panama, and described by researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí in Panama, and the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia. In the species description published this week in Zootaxa, it was named Andinobates geminisae for Geminis Vargas, “the beloved wife of [coauthor] Marcos Ponce, for her unconditional support of his studies of Panamanian herpetology.”

Every new species name is based on a representative specimen. The specimen for this species was collected Feb. 21, 2011, in the headwaters of the Rio Caño, in the district of Donoso, Colón Province, Panama, by Samuel Valdés, who was then the MWH Global Inc. environment office director, and his field assistant, Carlos de la Cruz. Additional specimens were collected between the Rio Coclé del Norte and the Rio Belen by biologists Marcos Ponce and Abel Batista, then a student at the Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí. The specimens were deposited in the Museo de Vertebrados at the University of Panama, the Museo Herpetólogico de Chiriquí at the Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí and in the Círculo Herpetólogico de Panamá.

“Abel Batista and Marcos Ponce were the first to note the presence of this species,” said Cesar Jaramillo, Smithsonian herpetologist. “They’ve known it was there for several years. However, they were not sure if it was only a variety of another poison dart frog species, Oophaga pumilio, which exhibits tremendous color variation. Based on morphological characteristics of the adult and the tadpole, I thought it might be a new species of Andinobates.”

Andrew Crawford, professor at Universidad de Los Andes and former STRI postdoctoral fellow, sequenced the DNA, confirming that this was a new species of Andinobates. Genetic information about this species is available in the Barcode of Life Data System and in GenBank. A recording of the call is available at AmphibiaWeb.org.

Because this new frog species appears to be found in only a very small area, habitat loss and collecting for the pet trade are major threats to its existence. The authors recommend the formulation of special conservation plans to guarantee its survival. A. geminisae is included in the captive breeding program of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation project, a consortium of six zoos and research institutions dedicated to saving amphibians from the chytrid fungal disease, which is decimating amphibians worldwide, and habitat loss.

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All collecting and export were done with permission from Panama’s Environmental Authority, ANAM. Financial support for this study came from MWH Global Inc. and Minera Panama. Funding for DNA sequencing was provided by a CBOL grant to barcode the vertebrates of Panama.

For more information about amphibian biodiversity in Panama, visit amphibianrescue.org or the Smithsonian’s new exhibit, Las Fabulosas Ranas de Panama, at Culebra Point Nature Center on Amador Causeway in Panama City.

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution. The Institute furthers the understanding of tropical nature and its importance to human welfare, trains students to conduct research in the tropics and promotes conservation by increasing public awareness of the beauty and importance of tropical ecosystems. Website: http://www.stri.si.edu. Promo video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9JDSIwBegk

Batista, A., Jaramillo, C.A., Ponce, M., Crawford, A. 2014 A new species of Andinobates (Amphibia:Dendrobatidae) from west central Panama. Zootaxa 3:333-352 http://dx.doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.3866.3.2

Frog Friday! Strawberry Poison Dart Frog

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Look, but don’t touch! Strawberry poison dart frogs (Oophaga pumilio) are known for their strikingly beautiful skin colors. Their bright color serves as a warning to predators that they are toxic. This type of “warning coloration” is called aposematism.  In the wild Oophaga pumilio gets its toxicity from its diet of ants and termites. The frogs we maintain in captivity in our exhibit Fabulous Frogs of Panama are fed small crickets and fruit flies. This change in diet eradicates any trace of poison in these frogs when they are raised in captivity

Strawberry poison dart frogs are generally a small species, about 0.75 to 1.5 inches (20 to 40 mm) in length. They are also mostly diurnal, and can be heard calling in the flooded forest.There are many poison frogs in the Dendrobatidae family with slightly different distributional ranges that can be found in Central America and northern South America. The species Oophaga pumilio are found in Mesoamerican countries and Panama.

Did you know? An Oophaga pumilio look alike was recently discovered in Panama by STRI scientist Cesar Jaramillo with  Abel Batista and Marcos Ponce (UNACHI) and Andrew Crawford (Universidad de los Andes). This new species Andinobates geminisae is still being described. Click here for more information.

Post by Dara Wilson

 

Frog Friday! Rainforest Rocket Frog

Rainforest Rocket Frog/ Rana cohete

5414839990_62033ee506_zThe rainforest rocket frog is a small frog with a mighty leap! This species of frog occurs in humid lowlands from Costa Rica to Panama. It is a diurnal species with a wide distribution, is tolerant of varying degrees of habitat change, and has been well recorded in a number of protected areas. For these reasons, there is little concern over the continued survival of this species. However, they are still threatened, like most amphibians, by general habitat loss caused by deforestation.

Silverstoneia flotator consume a multiplicity of small arthropods. In the Punta Culebra Nature Center frog exhibit, Fabulous Frogs of Panama, the Rainforest Rocket Frog eats small fruit flies. Males are territorial and will wrestle with other males to defend their territories (Savage 2002). There is currently one male in the exhibit and five more rocket frogs will be introduced in the upcoming weeks. So there are sure to be some interesting encounters in the exhibit!

Did you know? You can distinguish a mature male Silverstoneia flotator by its swollen middle finger. Males also have a pale grey throat color, while females have white-colored throats. The female frog lays her eggs in the leaf litter of a male’s territory, and when they hatch the male transports the tadpoles to nearby streams (Savage 2002). This is just one of many diverse reproductive strategies seen in Panamanian frogs. Stay tuned for next week’s #frogfriday to continue learning about the frogs of Panama!

Post by Dara Wilson

 

The 2014 Golden Frog Festival: Saving a National Treasure

GF with kids

 

HIGHLIGHTS

Participants: 2000

School Groups: 13 school groups – 300 students

Teacher Workshops: 3 workshops – 70 participants

Volunteers: 80

MEDIA COVERAGE

Radio & TV Spots: 10

News Articles: 7

Media Websites: 3

Social Media Statistics
Social media views*
        STRI Facebook page 19,717(18 posts)
        Punta Culebra Facebook page

PARC Facebook page

4,131(16  posts)

60,898 (41 Posts)

Festival event page 214 likes
Twitter hashtag used

Youtube video views

29

1023(7 videos)

*Total # of views for all posts about festival

 Youtube videos released to promote Golden Frog Festival

Name of Video # of Views # of Subscriptions driven # of shares
I love frogs 92 0 2
There’s a fungus among us 28 0 0
The Golden Frog 302 1 1
PARC Project 38 0 0
How can you help? 10 0 0
Frogs in culture 194 1 3
Why frogs matter 359 3 6
Total 1023 5 12

In August the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and partners celebrated the fourth annual Golden Frog Festival. The festival, consisting of various events held throughout Panama, calls local and global attention to the ecological and cultural value of the Panamanian golden frog and global amphibian declines. A major highlight of the festival was the opening of Fabulous Frogs of Panama, a new exhibit at Punta Culebra Nature Center featuring some of the world’s most beautiful, and endangered, frog species.

The festival kicked off on August 4 with a series of teacher workshops in El Valle de Anton led by Smithsonian Education Specialist Lidia Valencia and Peace Corps Response Volunteer Hannah Arney. Seventy teachers attended three workshop to learn about the new curriculum “Fabulous Frogs of Panama, which provides educational activities for use in teaching their students about amphibian biodiversity and conservation.

 

"Congratulations on this workshop that offered us greater knowledge of nature and science. The workshop was  practical and easy to apply to any grade level." Quote from a teacher who participated in the workshop

“Congratulations on this workshop that offered us greater knowledge of nature and science. The workshop was practical and easy to apply to any grade level.” ~ workshop participant

 

PARC scientists Jorge Guerrel and Rigoberto Diaz introduced the festival on the Panamanian national lottery highlighting the importance of the golden frog and encouraging Panamanians to help conserve amphibians.

 

 

Later that evening, the first Science in the City public talk was held at the Rana Dorada Pub. The event, held at one of our main sponsor’s venues, featured PARC scientist Jorge Guerrel and indigenous artisian Lanky Cheucarama. The pub talk was a vibrant mix of indigenous culture, conservation, education, and superb food & drinks!

 

Punta Culebra Nature Center held its soft opening of the new exhibit, “Fabulous Frogs of Panama.”  Sharon Ryan, public programs director at STRI, Matthew Larsen, STRI director, and Sylvia Cesaratto, the Canadian Ambassador for Panama, spoke about the importance of amphibians as national, cultural and biological treasures before inviting participants to visit the new exhibit.

The second Science in the City talk was held in the historic district of Casco Antiguo at the American Trade Hotel. Sharon Ryan, STRI’s director of public programs, and Brian Gratwicke, lead conservation biologist for the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, talked about the PARC ‘s amphibian research, rescue and education programs.

 La Tribu finalized their performance by inviting a group of local school children to make an oath to live in harmony with the amphibians.

Performance by La Tribu

Throughout the day many people also contributed to a collective mural with the art & design studio La Tienda De Remedios

 The weekend was jam-packed with events and activities for families and frog enthusiasts. On Saturday, August 16, El Valle de Anton, the community where the PARC project began, held a family day to promote golden frog conservation. Local businesses and community groups supported the events – which included a performance by acrobatic group La Tribu, and a variety of fund and educational activities.  An estimated 500 people, mostly children, attended the event.

On Sunday August 17th, the Punta Culebra Nature Center hosted a frog themed family day to celebrate the launch of their new exhibit. The day’s events included face painting, informational presentations by STRI scientists, and frog themed games. The Rana Dorada food truck also came out to sell their delicious hamburgers and tacos.  La Tribu reprised their presentation from El Valle, and taught visitors about the importance of taking care of frogs and their habitat.

 

 

The final event of the 2014 Golden Frog Festival was a 5K/15K walk/race held in El Valle de Anton. This was the first trail walk/run race in Panama focused on raising awareness about wildlife conservation. Participants went through trails surrounding the beautiful Hotel Campestre while spectators, families, and children all watched in support.

 

Golden frog saving a life at the race in El Valle

Golden frog saving a life at the race in El Valle

Special thanks to:

  • The Festival Planning Committee (Sharon Ryan, Roberto Ibañez, Jorge Aleman, Nelly Florez, Sonia Tejada, Alvaro Gonzalez, Hannah Arney, Rigoberto Diaz, Lidia Valencia, Adrian Benedetti, Ana Matilde Ruiz, Ana Endara, Sean Mattson, Carlos Celis, Ana Lucrecia Arosemena, Heidi Ross, Dayra Navarro, Lanky Cheucarama, Dara Wilson)
  • Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project
  • Culebra guides
  • All volunteers that contributed to the events
  • Brian Gratwicke
  • Stratego Communications

Sponsors:

towerbank-logo-glow ATH logo la_rana_dorada_logo2

  • El Rey
  • Caminando Panama
  • APRADAP
  • The North Face
  • Sportshealth
  • Suunto
  • Purissima
  • Organica
  • Tacfit Panama
  • The TRI Store
  • Deka Music Group

Post by Dara Wilson, Media and Outreach Volunteer, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

New education tab launched!

fabulosas ranas cover

Lots of exciting things are happening with amphibian education here in Panama! The brand new exhibit “Fabulous Frogs of Panama” is open at Punta Culebra Nature Center on the Amador Causeway in Panama City, Panama. In conjunction with this exhibit the Punta Culebra staff and I have designed a whole new curriculum of activities to do with visiting school groups.  The curriculum is a product of collaboration by Smithsonian educators, PARC scientists, and myself. Thanks to Catherine de Rivera and the rest of her wonderful group from Portland State University we received training on inquiry-based learning techniques, and we are incorporating these methods in our brand new amphibian curriculum. It includes activities such as a dichotomous key to help students learn to identify amphibians, strategies that amphibians use to avoid predation, the frog life cycle, and the effects of chytrid fungus on amphibian skin. We have published a version of this curriculum right here on amphibianrescue.org, under the brand new education tab.  Coming soon we will also include on the education tab a virtual tour of the exhibit, videos, and other bilingual materials to be utilized by educators.  So stay tuned for exciting updates to this section of the website!

Ranas de Panama currículo

By Hannah Arney, Peace Corps Response Volunteer, Science and Biodiversity Curriculum Specialist, Punta Culebra Nature Center