Many thanks to my great friend Prof. Alessandro Catenazzi and his team, to Rudolf Von May, Kelsey Reider, Prof. Maureen A. Donnelly, Nigel and Renata Pitman and all the crew of the CICRA Los Amigos biological station in the Peruvian Amazon. Great THANKS also goes to the crew in Wayqecha Biological Station, to Robinson Palomino Paz and all the ACCA’s crew in Cusco. This work could not be done without the help and support of the Amazon Conservation Association (ACA) and its Peruvian sister, the Asociación para la Conservación de la Cuenca Amazónica (ACCA). I also would like to deeply thank the Italian Institute of Culture in Lima for supporting my work with the exposition “Micromundos” that’s now touring around in Peru.
Saving frogs: a tale from Peru, with a global taste
Amphibians are disappearing around the globe. They are under pressure because of habitat loss, climate change and the deadly chytrid fungus. Scientists are trying to stop “the new extinction” by trying to understand how these phenomena negatively interact with frogs, toads and salamanders.
Amphibians landed the first time about 400 million years ago and found a rich and not so demanding habitat to live in, so they rapidly reached big body sizes and the top of the food chain, remaining enthroned on it for about 100 millions years. At the end of the Permian new land invaders – the crocodiles “prototypes” – began to compete with Amphibians both for food and place to live.
This phenomenon led to the miniaturisation of Amphibians and their spreading to colder regions, where crocodiles couldn’t survive for their impossibility to hibernate.
Since that first radiation these animals changed their lives thousand times, powering up their skin with venoms and antimicrobial substances and adapting to nearly every habitat in the globe except the poles.
Now they are probably facing their worst period ever.
Hundred of species are close to extinction or they already disappeared mostly because of habitat loss and new aggressive diseases. The human species is probably the main cause of their drop: climate changes, habitat loss and the spreading of the chytrid fungus are devastating many populations. This last disease, that causes skin damage and a final lethal heart attack to the infected animal, is even a bigger mystery: it’s widespread all over the world but it has the same genetic code everywhere.
This means that it had a very fast propagation in a few years and humans are most probably the main vector.
The 70% of Atelopus toads of South America is already extinct or in the brink of extinction and many species like Telmatobius frogs and other Central and South American species are in the same danger.
Agalychnis lemur, the Lemur Leaf frog, is disappearing from most sites and all the higher altitude populations are already extinct.
The Peruvian Amazon is one of the hot spot of world biodiversity, both in cloud forests and into the flat, lush lowlands. Over there, into the Manu National Park and into the Madre de Dios area, I had the opportunity to document the effort of different researchers, like Alessandro Catenazzi‘s team, to save Amphibian populations. They compare data from the past with present data collected in the field and try to understand which is the impact of the chytrid fungus. Despite some bad news, new species are discovered almost each year and the Amphibian population remains in good health in some parts of their region, with the disease limited to some montane areas. Some other species are also re-discovered after being though extinct in the wild, like “Lazarus of biodiversity” emerging again from the cloak of oblivion. There are still many factors to be investigated and hopefully some researchers will find a way to uncover the last mysteries bond to this big new – and fast – mass extinction we’re now witnessing.
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