Escape from deadly disease: Can environmental refugia save tropical mountain frogs from extinction?

Alessandro Catenazzi Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL

Report 1

On 1 April 2017 Wildlife Acoustics we received a Wildlife Acoustics grant (license to use software) in support of our project "Escape from deadly disease: Can environmental refugia save tropical mountain frogs from extinction?". The main goal of this project is to ground-truth predictions of a habitat distribution modeling map produced for the highly virulent, pathogenic fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which has been linked to worldwide amphibian declines and extinctions. Our study area, in the eastern slopes of Peruvian Andes, is among the most amphibian species-rich regions on Earth. An additional objective, as part of our field expeditions to areas predicted to have low occurrence of the fungus, is to search for relictual populations of threatened species known to have disappeared from areas where disease prevalence is high.

Field work for this project is supported by grants from the Eppley Foundation, the Chicago Board of Trade Endangered Species Fund, Southern Illinois University Carbondale startup funds to A. Catenazzi, personal funds donated by A. Catenazzi, and volunteering by local biologists Alex Ttito, Isabel Diaz and William Tito, and Dr. Sarah Kupferberg.

From May to August 2017 we conducted field expeditions to six different regions of central Peru: Pampas Galeras (Ayacucho), Kosñipata valley near Manu National Park (Cusco), Marcapata Valley (Cusco), San Gabán Valley (Puno), upper Guacamayo watershed in Bahuaja-Sonene National Park (Puno), and the Santo Domingo Valley (Puno). We surveyed amphibian populations from 500 to 4000 m elevation, capturing over 900 individuals, which were identified, sexed, measured and swabbed for detection of fungal infection. We also surveyed >60 streams (375–4700 m elevation) for presence of fungal disease by filtering 1–3 L of water/stream through environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis. We deployed Sound Meter recorders (SM 1; purchased in 2008 with support from the Rufford Foundation) at the Santo Domingo site to survey for Noblella peruviana, a species described from this location but that has not seen since the late 1800s or early 1900s, and the threatened harlequin toad Atelopus erythropus and A. tricolor, not seen since 2004 and 2007 respectively.

We were able to rediscover Noblella peruviana, more than 100 years since it had last been seen. Moreover, sound recordings allowed us to detect the presence of a second, cryptic species of Noblella, which appears to live in the same habitats along with N. peruviana. We are in the process of describing this new species. We are still processing sound recordings to screen for the presence of advertisement calls of other amphibian species, and specifically of the two species of Atelopus, a process which is made more difficult because the call of A. erythropus has never been recorded. We are also proceeding with analyses of skin swab and eDNA samples, and identifying collected material, and we expect this collection should contain at least 5 new species discovered during our field work.

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