AboutZoos, Since 2008


A lost frog in the lost world?

pub­lished 20 July 2013 | mod­i­fied 30 May 2014

A team of sci­en­tists from the Senck­en­berg Research Insti­tute in Dres­den inves­ti­gated in the forests of Cen­tral Guyana if con­ser­va­tion and eco­tourism can go together. While doing so, they found by chance a pre­vi­ously undis­cov­ered species of frog that only exists in a very con­fined area of the so-​called Iwokrama For­est. The related study was pub­lished online on July in the sci­en­tific jour­nal Organ­isms, Diver­sity and Evo­lu­tion.

Allobates amissibilis frogThe Lost World, a famous novel released by the renowned British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1912, is set in to what, even today, is still a vir­tu­ally for­got­ten and neglected area of our planet, the Guiana Shield in the north of South Amer­ica. The region accounts for more than 25 per­cent of the world’s trop­i­cal rain forests, and is one of the four remain­ing exten­sive pris­tine forested areas left in the world (Ama­zon, Congo, Papua New Guinea and Guiana Shield).

In a study spon­sored by the Species Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion [Stiftung Arten­schutz] and the Asso­ci­a­tion of Ger­man Zoo Direc­tors [Ver­band Deutscher Zood­i­rek­toren], the Dres­den team, led by biol­o­gists Dr. Raf­fael Ernst and Monique Hölt­ing inves­ti­gated whether con­ser­va­tion of amphib­ians and eco­tourism can be rec­on­ciled in the forests of Guyana. The inves­ti­ga­tions are being car­ried out in close co-​operation with the inter­na­tional not-​for-​profit organ­i­sa­tion Iwokrama Inter­na­tional Cen­tre for Rain For­est Con­ser­va­tion and Devel­op­ment. Their idea is to test the con­cept of a truly sus­tain­able for­est, where con­ser­va­tion, bio­di­ver­sity safe­guard­ing, envi­ron­men­tal bal­ance and eco­nomic use can be mutu­ally rein­forc­ing. Beside forms of sus­tain­able for­est man­age­ment, eco­tourism con­cepts are also being tested. This is also true of the project area, Turu Falls, at the foot of the Iwokrama Moun­tains in the so-​called Iwokrama For­est of Cen­tral Guyana.

The orig­i­nal aim of the study was to inves­ti­gate the pop­u­la­tions of Hoog­moeds har­le­quin frog (Atelo­pus hoog­moedi), in order to find out whether these mor­pho­log­i­cally very vari­able frogs may be affected by the planned tourism activ­i­ties. The results will lead in the medium term to a sus­tain­able devel­op­ment plan for the area, with Atelo­pus receiv­ing the role here of a so-​called flag­ship species, i.e. a species which stands as rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the pro­tec­tion of the entire area.

A frog that is vir­tu­ally already lost
Dur­ing the field­work for this project, the researchers were struck by an incon­spic­u­ous brown frog, only the size of a thumb­nail, which they could not assign to any known species. As it turned out, it was indeed a hith­erto unde­scribed species of poi­son dart frog which is now being sci­en­tif­i­cally described jointly by Dres­den and Bel­gian scientists.

As incon­spic­u­ous as the frogs appear, they are unique. To date, only three species of the genus Allo­bates are known from Guyana, one of which, the Cuckoo frog Allo­bates spumapo­nens, was described for the first time by the same team (Kok & Ernst) in 2007. More­over, the newly dis­cov­ered lit­tle frog is the third known micro-​endemic species, i.e. which only occurs in the very small area of the Iwokrama Moun­tains. So far, only a gecko and a cae­cil­ian, a leg­less amphib­ian, are known from this area as hav­ing a sim­i­larly lim­ited distribution.

Because of their lim­ited dis­tri­b­u­tion and usu­ally small total pop­u­la­tion sizes, micro-​endemic species are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to changes in their envi­ron­ment. It is there­fore ques­tion­able whether the use of the area as a des­ti­na­tion for eco­tourism will not ulti­mately lead to the loss of a species, which has only just been dis­cov­ered and thus has been made acces­si­ble to sci­en­tific inves­ti­ga­tion. In order to draw atten­tion to this fact, researchers have given the lit­tle amphib­ian the dis­tinc­tive name Allo­bates amis­si­bilis (in Latin “that may be lost”). We must nev­er­the­less still hope that not least due to the research work of the Dres­den team, all is not lost for the for­got­ten world in the north of South America.

The Guiana Shield: Wor­thy of pro­tec­tion
Not least because of the high num­ber of endemic species, the region is one of the most impor­tant cen­tres of bio­di­ver­sity in the trop­ics of the New World.
Even though the forests of the Guiana Shield have had among the low­est defor­esta­tion rates of the world, with very lit­tle change over the past decades, rapid eco­nomic and social changes are pos­ing increas­ing pres­sures on these rel­a­tively well-​conserved for­est ecosys­tems. The Guianas are at a cross­roads con­cern­ing deci­sions and trade-​offs among util­i­sa­tion, con­ser­va­tion and preser­va­tion of their forests and thus sub­stan­tial parts of the region’s biodiversity.

(Source: Senck­en­berg Research Insti­tute press release, 17.07.2013)

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