The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation (PARC) project receives IX BBVA Foundation’s Biodiversity Conservation Award for Latin America

25 November, 2014, Madrid. The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation (PARC) project was awarded the IX BBVA Foundation’s Biodiversity Conservation Award for Latin America, which recognizes projects, policies or actions that have had significant impact on the protection of habitats, species and ecosystems in Latin America.  Our project was chosen among approximately 30 nominations for its achievements in saving critically endangered amphibians in Panama and globally through research, rescue and outreach.

Roberto Ibanez BBVA Award

The award, made on Nov 25th at the Palacio del Marqués de Salamanca in Madrid, Spain includes a prize of 250,000 Euros (approx. $323,000).  The award was made to STRI’s Roberto Ibáñez, director of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project,  Heidi Ross, director and co-founder of the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center, Sharon Ryan, STRI’s director of public programs and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Brian Gratwicke who is the international coordinator of the amphibian rescue project.

Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project LogoPARC was created in 2009 as a partnership of eight institutions, in response to the massive loss of Panama’s amphibian biodiversity due mainly to the chytrid fungus, and has several key goals: prevent species extinctions by establishing ex-situ assurance colonies of endangered amphibians threatened with extinction from a deadly fungus decimating amphibians worldwide; develop tools to mitigate the disease and lead to reintroductions in the wild; and, engage constituents to support conservation of amphibians and habitats.

The founding organizations include Africam Safari, Houston Zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, New England Zoo, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Defenders of Wildlife and  the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

To date, we have invested $1.5 million to build two ex-situ facilities in Panama, bred more than 10 endangered amphibian species, including the Panamanian Golden Frog, a conservation flagship species now extinct in the wild. Our scientists actively monitor disease and frog populations in the wild, use the latest molecular tools to find beneficial skin bacteria to help frogs fight chytridiomycosis infections, research genetic mechanisms of chytrid resistance in Panamanian Golden Frogs, and develop assisted reproduction technologies to breed frogs in captivity and cryopreserve their gametes for future use.

Kids on a float in the Golden Frog Day Parade

The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project’s education campaign generates extensive coverage in local and international press, raising awareness and support for this crisis, including: award-winning documentary aired on Smithsonian Channel in the USA, and coverage in major media outlets. Our annual Panamanian Golden Frog Festival drew 6,280 people in 2013 and had a media reach of nearly 500,000. Two exhibits, the Fabulous Frogs of Panama in Panama City and another at the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center are visited by 200,000 Panamanians annually. More than 35,000 schoolchildren and 300 teachers participate annually in amphibian-related education programs.  Nearly 300 volunteers have supported the project since 2009.

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

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

Hanging around.

Ecuador Cochran frog (Nymphargus griffithi)

Ecuador cochran frog (Nymphargus griffithi)

Cute Frog of the Week: March 25, 2013

The Ecuador cochran frog is a brightly colored frog found most often on vegetation next to streams in montane forests. Although its name points to Ecuador, it appears to have disappeared from its original region and is now found most commonly in Columbia. The Cochran frog population is currently in a decline due to habitat loss from deforestation for agricultural development, logging and human settlement. The introduction of alien predatory fish to the area and pollution resulting from the spraying of illegal crops has also had a negative effect on the species. Due to these factors, the IUCN has listed them as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Photo by Lucas M. Bustamante via Arkive.

Every week the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project posts a new photo of a cute frog from anywhere in the world with an interesting, fun and unique story to tell. Be sure to check back every Monday for the latest addition.

Send us your own cute frogs by uploading your photos here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/cutefrogoftheweek/

Rescue Project Successfully Breeds Endangered Frog Species

 

Limosa harlequin frog (Atelopus limosus) baby on a U.S. quarter.

Limosa harlequin frog (Atelopus limosus) baby on a U.S. quarter. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

The limosa harlequin frog (Atelopus limosus), an endangered species native to Panama, now has a new lease on life. The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project is successfully breeding the chevron-patterned form of the species in captivity for the first time. The rescue project is raising nine healthy frogs from one mating pair and hundreds of tadpoles from another pair.

“These frogs represent the last hope for their species,” said Brian Gratwicke, international coordinator for the project and a research biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, one of six project partners. “This new generation is hugely inspiring to us as we work to conserve and care for this species and others.”

Nearly one-third of the world’s amphibian species are at risk of extinction. The rescue project aims to save priority species of frogs in Panama, one of the world’s last strongholds for amphibian biodiversity. While the global amphibian crisis is the result of habitat loss, climate change and pollution, a fungal disease, chytridiomycosis, is likely responsible for as many as 94 of 120 frog species disappearing since 1980.

Between its facilities at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Gamboa, Panama, and the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center in El Valle, Panama, the rescue project currently cares for 55 adult limosa harlequin frogs of the chevron-patterned form and 10 of the plain-color form. The project has had limited success breeding the plain-color form of this species, and has successfully bred other challenging endangered species, including crowned treefrogs (Anotheca spinosa), horned marsupial frogs (Gastrotheca cornuta) and toad mountain harlequin frogs (A. certus).

Each species requires its own unique husbandry to thrive and breed. The project’s animal care team and scientists learn husbandry techniques as they work with a limited number of individuals. Jorge Guerrel, conservation biologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, arranged rocks in the breeding tank to create the submerged caves that appear to be the preferred egg deposition sites for limosa harlequin frogs. Like other Atelopus species, tadpoles require highly oxygenated, gently flowing water between 22 and 24 degrees Celsius. The tadpoles’ natural food is algal film growing on submerged rocks, which Guerrel and his colleagues re-created by painting petri dishes with a solution of powdered spirulina algae, then allowing it to dry.

The mission of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project is to rescue amphibian species that are in extreme danger of extinction throughout Panama. The project’s efforts and expertise are focused on establishing assurance colonies and developing methodologies to reduce the impact of the amphibian chytrid fungus so that one day captive amphibians may be reintroduced to the wild. Current project partners include Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Houston Zoo, Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Zoo New England.

Lindsay Renick Mayer, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Stealing your heart.

Turquino Robber Frog (Eleutherodactylus turquinensis )

Turquino robber frog (Eleutherodactylus turquinensis )

Cute Frog of the Week: March 4, 2013

The turquino robber frog is a small frog, but large for Eleutherodactylids. It is a semi-aquatic frog found in small mountain streams in cloud forest and fragmented areas at high altitudes. Endemic to Cuba, this frog is known only from the Sierra del Turquino (Sierra Maestra Mountains) in eastern Cuba. These little robbers can be found on stream banks clinging to wet rocks in the splash zone, prepared to dive underwater for a quick getaway if needed. Due to habitat loss and their limited area of occupancy, this species is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN.

Photo by Ariel Rodriguez via Arkive.

Every week the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project posts a new photo of a cute frog from anywhere in the world with an interesting, fun and unique story to tell. Be sure to check back every Monday for the latest addition.

Send us your own cute frogs by uploading your photos here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/cutefrogoftheweek/

Hops and spots.

Marañón poison frog (Excidobates mysteriosus)

Marañón poison frog (Excidobates mysteriosus)

Cute Frog of the Week: February 25, 2013

This little polka-dotted guy is actually one of the most distinctive poisonous frogs. Adults are black or brown, sporting fashionable white “polka-dots” that cover their entire body. This spotting is highly variable from frog to frog, with the exception of a single spot under the chin and an oval spot on the underside of the thighs. The species is known from a single location in the vicinity of Santa Rosa, Cajamarca, Peru and often lives in giant bromeliad flowers. Unfortunately, because of land destruction for coffee farms in the area around Santa Rosa, this species is losing its habitat and becoming severely threatened in the wild. Humans have also begun to want these beautiful amphibians as terrarium pets. These threats have caused the IUCN to classify the spotted frog as endangered by the IUCN.

Photo by Jean-Francois Brousseau via ARKive.

Every week the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project posts a new photo of a cute frog from anywhere in the world with an interesting, fun and unique story to tell. Be sure to check back every Monday for the latest addition.

Send us your own cute frogs by uploading your photos here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/cutefrogoftheweek/

Frog Love on Valentine’s Day

This Valentine’s Day we asked some of the rescue project’s researchers why they love frogs. Here’s what we got back from a few biologists at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. The common link? A life-long love of wildlife.

Matt Evans, biologist, Smithsoinan's National Zoo

Matt Evans, biologist, Smithsonian

“My favorite childhood memories revolve around my mother taking me down to the nearest stream and letting me get dirty playing with frogs and salamanders. I loved it so much, I get to do that for a living now! The diversity within all amphibians still amazes me as there is so much we still have  to learn. I consider being able to work on projects, which may help save frogs from extinction, to be the absolute coolest part of my job.”

Ed Smith, biologist, Smithsonian's National Zoo

Ed Smith, biologist, Smithsonian

“Since childhood it was snakes, not frogs, that were the focus of hours spent searching woodlands, streams and ponds. Unlike other more noticeable  creatures, snakes are decidedly unapparent; unless they happen to be eating a frog! Although, the thrill of finding a snake by following the plaintive screams of a leopard frog never diminished, what increased was my interest in the gradually disappearing prey. So, thanks in part to the appetite of a few alluring garter snakes the equally marvelous world of frogs, toads, salamanders, sirens, and hellbenders opened to me and now inform and enhance days at work and in the field.”

Brian Gratwicke, rescue project international coordinator

Brian Gratwicke, rescue project international coordinator

“I fell in love with frogs growing up as a child in Zimbabwe. There was something exhilarating about discovering the translucent, musical jewels that are responsible for the familiar nocturnal soundtrack of my childhood. Unlike any computer games or TV shows, I will carry those first memories of catching frogs around a pond with me for the rest of my life. For me, seeing frogs in the wild stirs emotions of wonder and discovery, and they are accessible to everyone who is willing to take a little extra effort to open their eyes and look.”

–Brian Gratwicke, rescue project international coordinator

Nestled amongst the leaves.

La Loma robber frog (Pristimantis caryophyllaceus)

La Loma robber frog (Pristimantis caryophyllaceus)

Cute Frog of the Week: February 11, 2013

La Loma robber frog used to be found predominantly in the forests of Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia, yet recently this frog has been disappearing in increasing numbers. The deadly chytrid fungus, as well as habitat loss attributed to logging, farming and human encroachment, has had an impact on the wild populations of this species. The population effects have been the most drastic at lower altitudes, which is unusual, as most other species experience the heaviest declines at higher elevations. These small frogs prefer leaf litter and the low vegetation of primary moist and wet forests and rainforests. Leaves play an important role in the life cycle of these frogs, as females lay their eggs on leaves and brood them there. The la Loma robber frog is listed as a near threatened species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Photo by Andreas Hertz via ARKive.

Every week the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project posts a new photo of a cute frog from anywhere in the world with an interesting, fun and unique story to tell. Be sure to check back every Monday for the latest addition.

Send us your own cute frogs by uploading your photos here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/cutefrogoftheweek/