Two amphibians at the brink of extinction are rescued in the Chocó rainforest

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By Tropical Herping. November 2020.

A team of researchers have successfully rescued individuals of two highly threatened frog species in Ecuador. The individuals will bring hope to their species by being the founders of a backup colony, as their natural habitat is in imminent danger of being destroyed.

Image of colorful frog peeking over a leaf

Portrait of a Palenque Poison-Frog (Paruwrobates erythromos), one of the world's most threatened poison frogs. Photo by Jose Vieira.

The fight against the global decline of amphibians is among the greatest challenges faced by today’s researchers and conservationists. Luckily, not all recent news are bad. Ecuador is playing a major role in ensuring the long-term survival of some emblematic species of this highly threatened group of vertebrates.

Image of a treefrog perched on a leaf

The Cricket Clownfrog (Dendropsophus gryllatus) has seen its habitat in central Ecuador reduced to almost cero during the past few decades. Photo by Jose Vieira.

One recent success example took place in the Chocó rainforest of Ecuador. A team of researchers of Tropical Herping and Fundación Jocotoco, with support from Synchronicity Earth's Amphibian Programme, rescued individuals of two threatened species of amphibians to create a backup population under human care. The reason: there is an imminent possibility that the natural habitat of these species could be completely destroyed.

The two frogs are endemic (meaning they are found nowhere else on the world) to the Chocó rainforest in Ecuador, of which no more than 19.2% of the original vegetation cover remains. Almost the entirety of the two frogs’ habitat has been replaced by pastures, crops, and human settlements.

Image of two researchers searching for frogs

Biologists Amanda Quezada and Jose Vieira, of Tropical Herping, explored a protected area called Centro Científico Río Palenque in search of the Cricket Clownfrog, but did not find the frog there. Instead, they found the frogs outside the reserve, in an unprotected area between a banana farm and a rubber plantation. Photo by Frank Pichardo.

Aware of the imminent disappearance of the last remaining Chocó rainforest in west-central Ecuador, the Tropical Herping team set out to explore an area known as Palenque in search of the Palenque Poison-Frog (Paruwrobates erythromos) and the Cricket Clownfrog (Dendropsophus gryllatus), both considered to be facing an imminent risk of extinction.

Image of a researcher exploring a pond

The team found a population of one of the frogs in a pond where there was virtually no forest remaining. Photo by Frank Pichardo.

In recent decades, the Palenque Poison-Frog has seen its habitat reduced to ~1% of its original size. The status of the Cricket Clownfrog is also concerning. Its habitat is reduced to a pond next to an unpaved road, between a banana farm and rubber plantation. Since the bodies of water where the two species live are surrounded by plantations, the frogs are also exposed to pesticides, which are likely to wipe out the few remaining individuals.

Image of a researcher exploring a rainforest creek

Small forest creeks are the preferred habitat of the Palenque Poison-Frog. To find the secretive frogs, researcher Frank Pichardo had to carefully look under leaf-litter and rocks.

In an expedition aiming to locate and rescue the threatened amphibians, the Tropical Herping team found and collected individuals and transported them safely to Centro Jambatu in Quito. The goal is to create a backup colony under human care on which a future re-introduction program could be based. The specimens will be studied, bred, and protected until a plan to safely re-establish their wild populations is developed.

“Local people were willing to let us explore their land in search of these animals,” says Frank Pichardo, one of the members of the expedition. “It seems that they can play an important role in the frog’s conservation, as they recognize that it is their own actions (pesticide use) that may be causing the frog populations to decline.”

Image of a treefrog perched on a leaf

Cricket Clownfrog (Dendropsophus gryllatus). Photo by Jose Vieira.

“The two frogs have different habits,” explains Frank Pichardo, “but both face the same problem: their habitat is disappearing and becoming polluted. The need for unspoiled forest is extremely crucial; otherwise, the frog’s populations might disappear forever.”

Today, you can play a major role in the long-term survival of the two species by supporting the Synchronicity Earth Project or Jocotoco's campaign to preserve the Chocó rainforest. By donating to protect the Chocó rainforest, you can help keep the Cricket Clownfrog and the Palenque Poison-Frog alive.