A Golden Day to Fight for Frogs

Golden Frog Day parade (Photo by Brian Gratwicke)

Golden Frog Day parade (Photo by Brian Gratwicke)

Each year around August 14, the streets of El Valle de Anton in Panama fill up with golden frogs. Though they’re not the real amphibians—the Panamanian golden frog is extinct in the wild—school-age children dress up as the animals in a spirited celebration of what has become a popular national holiday: Panamanian Golden Frog Day.

“Panamanian Golden Frog Day is about being thankful for the gift of life that we are able to experience each and every day,” says Katie Uckele, a volunteer at Punta Culebra Nature Center, one of the participants in the celebrations. “The Panamanian golden frog reminds us to cherish the gift of life and celebrate biodiversity in the world.”

Kids pledge to protect frogs on Golden Frog Day. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke)

Kids pledge to protect frogs on Golden Frog Day. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke)

In 2010—just one year after the last confirmed observation of a Panamanian golden frog in the wild—Panama’s National Assembly declared August 13 National Golden Frog Day, passing a law that made the Panamanian golden frog one of Panama’s official cultural and ecological symbols. Since then the holiday has grown from the mere acknowledgement of the National Assembly’s declaration to an entire week full of frog-focused events for children and adults across the country.

This year’s Golden Frog Day starts August 13, runs through August 20 and includes two family days, a race for frogs, an open house at the Gamboa Amphibian Research and Conservation Center, a book fair with a live frog exhibition and a parade in El Valle. See the Golden Frog Festival Calendar of Events for more details.

But you don’t have to be in Panama to celebrate and support our efforts to save the Panamanian golden frog. There are still a few more weeks left in our Fight for Frogs campaign, during which our generous sponsor Golden Frog—a global online services provider with a terrific name—is matching donations to the rescue project up to $20,000, helping us raise money critical to our fight for frogs. Make a donation on the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s website.

Frog jumping competition on Golden Frog Day (Photo by Brian Gratwicke)

Frog jumping competition on Golden Frog Day (Photo by Brian Gratwicke)

“I’m very hopeful for the future of golden frogs and several other highly endangered frogs in Panama,” says Brian Gratwicke, international coordinator for the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. Gratwicke adds that he will be baking golden frog cupcakes for his co-workers in celebration of Panamanian Golden Frog Day. “We have a fantastic team of dedicated conservationists working at maintaining and breeding frogs, and conducting the research needed to put them back in the wild.”

Though no longer found in the wild, the golden frog is a beloved icon in Panama, where local markets sell thousands of enamel-painted terracotta and hand-carved tagua nut golden frog statues, and hand-stitched fabric works of art called molas with the likeness of the amphibian. Last year Panamanian Golden Frog Day celebrations even kicked off with a golden frog-themed national lottery ticket.

Golden Frog Day float (Photo by Brian Gratwicke)

“Panamanian golden frogs mean hope,” says Angie Estrada, a Ph.D. student at Virginia Tech and a native Panamanian. “Hope that Panamanians can reclaim and protect their rivers, streams and forest. Hope that we can collaborate with people from different countries and backgrounds when the goal is larger than our own interests. Hope that we will be able to find more frogs out in the wild, and that if we don’t we will keep looking. Hope that if they disappeared, we will be able to say that we did everything we could to help them out.”

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.

2016 Golden Frog Festival Calendar of Events

Golden Frog Day Calendar 2016

EL VALLE DE ANTON

SATURDAY, AUGUST 13
FAMILY DAY #RANATICOS
Paseo El Valle, El Valle de Anton
11:00 AM – 3:00 PM
Activities: Games for children, exhibition of frogs, food and drinks, and the Golden Frog mascot.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 14
La Dorada Race
6:00 to 11:00 a.m.
Walk or run 5 to 15km to save a national treasure.
CLOSING PARADE
main streat of El Valle
2PM

GAMBOA
SUNDAY, AUGUST 21
OPEN HOUSE
Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project
1:00 – 4:00 PM
Activities: Open house to visit the amphibian Ark and meet the scientists.

BOOK FAIR
18 -19 AUGUST
Atlapa Convention Center
9:00 a.m. to 9:00 PM
Activities: exhibition of science and live frogs, games, dynamic, book sales and more.

PUNTA CULEBRA
SATURDAY, AUGUST 20
FAMILY DAY #RANATICOS
Punta Culebra Nature Center,
Calzada de Amador, Panama
11:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Activities: Meet experts frogs, Restaurant Rana, face painting, many games, food and drinks.

Please remember that up until golden frog day, all donations to the amphibian rescue project will be generously matched by Golden Frog CLICK HERE TO DONATE

Science to the Rescue in the #FightForFrogs

Gina Della Togna with a Panamanian golden frog, a beloved species at the center of her research. (Photo by Pei-Chih Lee, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

Gina Della Togna with a Panamanian golden frog, a beloved species at the center of her research. (Photo by Pei-Chih Lee, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

When SCBI conservation biologist Brian Gratwicke started the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project with partners in 2009, it was a mad dash to find and collect frogs representing the very last best hope for their species, rapidly vanishing at the hands of an amphibian chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or Bd) that causes a disease called chytridiomycosis.

If that was the opening chapter of the rescue project’s story, seven years later the story reads like a manuscript for an initiative set up to be among the most successful comprehensive conservation projects to date.

Today the rescue project has provided a stable safe haven for 12 of the most imperiled Panamanian frog species, requiring keepers to learn the complex husbandry, behavior and reproductive physiology unique to each individual species. In the meantime, rescue project scientists are making strides in developing and refining assisted reproduction protocols, while also conducting experiments in a resolute search for a cure for Bd.

“We are entering a new phase,” Gratwicke says. “We’ve brought together some of the world’s leading animal husbandry experts, veterinarians, reproductive biologists, disease ecologists and herpetologists. With all of the talented scientific minds working on this one, we have great hope that we may someday be able to return these species safely to their home in the wild.”

Searching for a Cure

Things in Matt Becker’s lab can sometimes get a bit…strange. Take, for instance, an experiment the SCBI postdoctoral researcher conducted a year ago with unexpected results. Becker’s research focuses on the use of probiotics—or beneficial bacteria—to help frogs fight off Bd. Last year Becker applied five different probiotics with anti-fungal properties to the skin of five groups of Panamanian golden frogs, hoping to discover which probiotic gives them an effective shield against the pathogen.

Matt Becker prepares-probiotic baths. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke)

Matt Becker prepares-probiotic baths. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

What he found surprised him. In past experiments, the probiotics were ineffective and all of the frogs died after the researchers infected them with Bd. This time, though, about 25 percent of the individuals survived. And those surviving frogs didn’t come from just one group with one kind of probiotics, but from every group, even the one that had been infected with Bd without a probiotic protectant.

So Becker and Gratwicke needed to determine what it was that the frogs did have in common to help them fight the disease. They started by looking at the frogs’ microbial community, or the complex community of bacteria on the skin. All of the frogs that survived had a greater abundance of specific bacteria on their skin.

In June of this year, the team launched a new experiment, this time using frogs from the Species Survival Plan collection at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore that have similar abundances and types of bacteria as those that survived last year. The researchers have given the frogs a cocktail of eight bacteria that seem to strongly ward off Bd.

Looking at which immune system genes turn on or off to fight off a chytrid infection can help scientists discover why some frogs aren't as susceptible. (Photo by Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian's National Zoo)

Looking at which immune system genes turn on or off to fight off a chytrid infection can help scientists discover why some frogs aren’t as susceptible. (Photo by Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian’s National Zoo)

“At the start of every experiment, you’re really optimistic,” says Becker, who has been working on golden frog probiotics since 2007. “It’s been a great journey and we’re really learning a lot about golden frogs and how chytrid affects these guys. Every little bit of information really goes a long way for the conservation of this species and similar species.”

For the first time during a probiotics study on frogs, the researchers will also be looking at the gene expression—or combination of genes in an individual frog that gets turned on or turned off—while the frog mounts an immune response to fight off Bd.

“We’re throwing everything we’ve got at this,” Becker says. “We want to be able to use these tools to determine which frogs in the overall captive population share those same strengths—either their microbial community or gene expression—that keep them alive. There are so many questions we need to answer, but through the scientific process, we’re getting there.”

Frogs for the Future

While Becker is focused on getting frogs safely back into the wild, this goal is only possible if there are actually future generations of frogs to release into the wild. That’s where Smithsonian researcher and Panamanian native Gina Della Togna comes in.

Gina Della Togna in the lab. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke)

Gina Della Togna in the lab. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

Della Togna is working on a number of complex assisted reproduction techniques for Panamanian frog species. She is the first scientist to develop protocols for extracting and freezing sperm from the Panamanian golden frog, a species that is extinct in the wild and a cultural icon in her home country. Scientists could someday use the sperm to infuse populations with additional genetic diversity, key to a species’ overall health.

“When we started, we didn’t know anything about anything,” Della Togna says. “We needed to learn which hormones at what concentrations to use, how to keep the sperm alive long enough to freeze it and the best techniques to freeze it so that the sperm is viable when we thaw it, even years later. It was a challenge, but I love a good challenge.”

Now Della Togna is working on developing similar protocol for other rescue project species, including the mountain harlequin frog, Pirre harlequin frog, variable harlequin frog, limosa harlequin frog and the rusty robber frog. In the future, she plans to get out into the field to capture genetic lineages from frogs in the wild. As she continues to perfect these protocols, Della Togna also aims to collect eggs from female Panamanian golden frogs to use for artificial fertilization with the frozen sperm. And most recently in Panama, she successfully applied a hormone treatment to help six pairs of the limosa harlequin frog and Pirre harlequin frogs breed that hadn’t laid eggs before.

“Breeding frogs is the fundamental step to sustaining captive populations and growing the numbers for release trials,” Gratwicke says. “Gina’s work is of huge applied value to us because we have some very challenging species to breed, and hormone dosing may help us to get them to cycle reproductively, even if we can’t figure out the external reproduction cues.”

For Della Togna, Gratwicke and Becker, the goal is the same: to give these unique species a fighting chance against Bd.

“If these frogs go extinct, nothing can replace them,” Della Togna says. “They are important to the ecosystem and essential to our planet’s equilibrium. There’s no doubt that we’re responsible for getting them back to where they belong.”

From now until the end of August, you can help us #FightForFrogs! 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.

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.

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.