Year : 2008 | Volume
| Issue : 4 | Page : 328-333
Conservation Needs of Batrachophrynus and Telmatobius Frogs of the Andes of Peru
Departamento de Herpetología, Museo de Historia Natural de San Marcos, Apartado 140434, Lima 14, Peru
P.O. Box 19004, 360A Bloor Street W.,Toronto, ON, M5S 1X1, Canada
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
|Date of Submission||28-Nov-2007|
|Date of Decision||21-Feb-2008|
|Date of Acceptance||11-Jul-2008|
|Date of Web Publication||25-Jun-2009|
| Abstract|| |
Recent reports indicate that Andean frogs of the genera Batrachophrynus and Telmatobius have undergone severe population declines across much of their geographical range, with several factors (e.g., pollution, habitat degradation and destruction, climate change, disease and harvesting) potentially involved in these declines. However, positive identification and quantification of these factors, as well as that of their interactions, are needed in order to better inform future conservation action. Peru is considered a hotspot for these frogs; it is home to at least 40 percent of all known species of Telmatobius and 100 percent of all known species of Batrachophrynus. An assessment of the current state of conservation knowledge of these Andean frogs in this country is provided, including data from both the Global Amphibian Assessment, and Peru's Instituto Nacional de los Recursos Naturales, with special attention to those factors that may affect population status. Specific research and conservation recommendations for these frogs and their habitats are suggested.
Keywords: Andes, Batrachophrynus , conservation status, Peru, population declines, Telmatobius
|How to cite this article:|
Angulo A. Conservation Needs of Batrachophrynus and Telmatobius Frogs of the Andes of Peru. Conservat Soc 2008;6:328-33
| Introduction|| |
BATRACHOPHRYNUS AND TELMATOBIUS are aquatic and semi-aquatic, mid to high elevation frogs that are distributed in the Andes of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. Severe population declines have been reported in different Telmatobius species throughout their distributional ranges over the past few years (De la Riva 2005; Merino-Viteri et al. 2005), and it is now thought that members of Telmatobius and Batrachophrynus are severely threatened (Lavilla 2005; De la Riva & Lavilla 2008). Declines have been associated with a number of possible factors, including pollution and human consumption (i.e., as a food source, for medicinal purposes and/or for 'magical' rites: Vellard 1981; Lehr 2000; Lundberg 2005, 2006; Angulo 2008); more recently, disease and climate change (Merino-Viteri et al. 2005; Seimon et al. 2005, 2007) have been identified as additional threats to population persistence.
Both genera have recently been the focus of a special issue of the Asociaci6n Herpetol6gica Espanola's Monografias de Herpetologia (Lavilla & De la Riva 2005), offering a compilation of studies that provide the much needed information updates and a better insight into these frogs' plight.
One of the studies of this special issue (Lehr 2005) provided a taxonomic summary of Telmatobius and Batrachophrynus species of Peru, identifying 22 species of Telmatobius and two species of Batrachophrynus recognised for this country. De la Riva et al. (2005) subsequently described a new species of Telmatobius from Peru and Bolivia (Telmatobius timens), bringing the total number of Telmatobius species known to occur in Peru to 23. Thus, the Andes of Peru are home to at least 40 percent of all known species of Telmatobius and 100 percent of all known species of Batrachophrynus, making Peru the country with the highest Telmatobius species richness (De la Riva & Lavilla 2008).
Given the critical situation being faced by members of Batrachophrynus and Telmatobius, identifying and quan tifying threats and their impact on wild populations is a pressing need in order to inform conservation action.
The present paper seeks to address the following questions: (1) What is the current state of conservation knowledge for Telmatobius and Batrachophrynus species of Peru?, (2) What are the most pressing and/or pervasive threat factors to these frogs?, and (3) What are their conservation needs?
| Materials and Methods|| |
To examine the status of Batrachophrynus and Telmatobius of Peru, data reported on Peru's Instituto Nacional de Recursos Naturales (INRENA)'s website on the categorisation of threatened species of fauna (INRENA 2004) and the Global Amphibian Assessment (GAA)  (see IUCN 2008) was used. For data on geographical distribution both GAA and Lehr (2005) were referred to. Threat categories follow the 2001 IUCNs (International Union for Conservation of Nature's) Red List Categories and Criteria Version 3.1 (IUCN 2001). For data on threat factors I referred to the GAA; only confirmed observations were used in assigning threat factors. Batrachophrynus and Telmatobius have been combined in this summary in view of the evidence supporting their close relationship (Aguilar & Pacheco 2005; Cordova & Descailleaux 2005); when referring to both genera the term 'Andean frogs' is used.
| Results|| |
A summary of geographic and conservation data available for Andean frog species of Peru is provided in [Table 1]. The IUCN threat categories provided by both the GAA (see IUCN 2008) and INRENA (2004) can be seen in [Figure 1].
Of a total of 25 species of Andean frogs reported from Peru, 80 percent are considered to be globally threatened and 12 percent are deemed to be Data Deficient, with only 8 percent considered under the categories of Near Threatened and Least Concern. INRENA's (2004) list of threatened fauna lists three Telmatobius [T. arequipensis, T. brevipes (listed as T. breviceps) and T. culeus] and the two Batrachophrynus species in the threatened category (corresponding to 21.73 percent of the 22 recognised species from Peru in 2004), and two other species of Telmatobius as Near Threatened (corresponding to 8.69 percent of the 22 species). INRENA and the GAA coincide in their assessments of three species [Batrachophrynus brachydactylus (Endangered), T. arequipensis (Vulnerable) and T. brevipes (Endangered)]; however, they differ in most other assessments [Table 1], but see also Discussion).
Andean frogs are faced with several factors that may pose threats to population persistence, either on their own or in combination with other factors. While little is known regarding the impact of these factors on population stability, their occurrence has been reported for several species (see IUCN 2008). In other cases, it is thought that a given factor may play an important role in popula tion declines (e.g., chytridiomycosis in high altitude populations, De la Riva et al. 2005; Seimon et al. 2005), but in the absence of confirmed reports for these factors, I have not included them in the assessment. However, this does not mean that the potential for their occurrence is not present.
Five factors have emerged as having an important role in population declines: disease, habitat degradation and destruction, harvesting, introduced species (trout) and pollution. For 13 species threat factors are either unknown or there is insufficient information from which inferences can be drawn. Of those identified factors, pollution and harvesting figure prominently as affecting the greatest number of species (nine and eight species respectively), with habitat degradation and destruction affecting five species, and introduced species and disease affecting one species each. As to pollution (from agrochemical, domestic and mining waste, and contamination), agrochemicals are listed as being a major source of pollution in seven cases, whereas mining is listed in two instances (T. mayoloi and T. punctatus) and domestic waste in four; agrochemical and domestic waste were often observed to occur together and were mostly associated with water quality, given that agrochemical runoff and household waste often reach watercourses and other bodies of water. Harvesting includes both incidental (from fishing) and purposeful collection of frogs. Eutrophication and collection of sand in waterways have been identified as mechanisms of habitat loss, while introduced species have referred primarily to trout and disease to chytridiomycosis, a skin infection caused by the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Longcore et al. 1999) and associated to amphibian declines worldwide. Species may be affected by more than one factor.
| Discussion|| |
(1) Current state of conservation knowledge: Although INRENA and the GAA differ in their assessments of most species, what is most noteworthy is the large discrepancy between the number of species considered as being globally threatened: Five (21.73 percent) according to INRENA, as opposed to 20 (80 percent) according to GAA. This difference is in part due to the fact that the GAA provides a complete assessment, including all recognised species at the time of the assessment and recent additions, whereas INRENA's categorisation was not based on the assessment of all species, but rather, on those species that were individually proposed by specialists and other criteria. In spite of these differences, the limited amount of empirical data and recent reports on the current status of Andean frogs in Peru (De la Riva pers. comm.) would suggest that a reassessment of these genera, inclusive of extensive fieldwork, is a high priority in the national biodiversity conservation agenda. INRENA's list of threatened species (included in the Peruvian legislation under Decreto Supremo No. 034-2004- AG) is currently in the process of being updated (J. Galvez-Durand pers. comm.), so it is possible that an updated list may provide reassessments on Andean frogs.
(2) Threat factors: Pollution and harvesting are figured as important human induced threats to Andean frogs. It is of particular concern that pollution is associated to water, given that most Andean frogs of Peru are semi-aquatic, while three species (B. macrostomus, T. culeus and T. mayoloi) are fully aquatic. As for harvesting, this is primarily for human consumption, both for subsistence and commercial purposes. While frogs are a source of protein, their consumption is often based on their presumed medicinal properties and alleged capacity to cure a diversity of ailments (Lehr 2000; Angulo 2008). Recent reports on illegal trade (INRENA 2005; Lundberg 2006) and consumption (Angulo 2008) suggest that harvest levels of some species may be high.
Regarding other potential threat factors, the original GAA launch (2004) precedes the more recent publication of (i) a study reporting the declines of three species of Telmatobius from Ecuador, where the time line for the appearance of chytridiomycosis and other anomalies, and frog disappearances coincides with the occurrence of extreme climatic variation in the region (Merino-Viteri et al. 2005) and (ii) a study that links de-glaciation in the Andes to vertical range extension in anurans and chytridiomycosis (Seimon et al. 2007), providing support for the impact of climate change on high altitude amphibian populations. Thus, climate change and its potential link to disease should be seriously considered as future research subjects.
(3) Conservation needs: In view of their taxonomic complexities and our currently limited understanding of Andean frogs' diversity patterns, detailed taxonomic studies, combined with novel approaches (e.g., phylogenetics and phylogeography) and ecological studies, will be required to address issues of species identity and ecological requirements.
In addition, the number of species that are listed as being affected by known factors with a bearing on population persistence is likely underestimated, as, to date, there have been no known published studies measuring these factors' impacts on wild frog populations. Although we do have a general idea of what these factors are (harvesting, pollution, habitat degradation and destruction, and introduced species) or are likely to be (climate change, disease and synergies), we are no farther ahead with regards to establishing their relative contributions or mechanisms in population declines. Monitoring populations and determining these contributions are important pieces of the puzzle. Some of these factors (e.g., habitat degradation, pollution and introduced species) are also likely to affect other species and entire ecosystems, so conservation action addressing these factors is bound to benefit more than just Andean frogs.
In order to address this critical information gap it will be necessary to promote multidisciplinary studies that focus on the different threat factors that occur throughout the distribution of Andean frogs. Some efforts have already been channelled in this direction (e.g., Seimon et al. 2007); however, many more such studies are needed in order to increase our understanding of declines.
While these research actions would help us to better understand the processes involved in declines, these will, however, continue to occur if no immediate action is taken. It is therefore crucial that pre-emptive emergency conservation measures are taken to increase the chances of survival in these highly endangered frogs. These measures may preliminarily address the more tangible anthropogenic factors. They can include, for example, legislation regulating the disposal of noxious chemicals and waste products, providing harvest limits or commercial bans on harvests, or encouraging habitat clean-up initiatives. If these measures are to be effective, though, they should come with compensatory and/or facilitating alternatives for those people of limited economic resources that would be directly affected by them.
Captive breeding as a conservation measure for amphibians has been a subject of debate (see Pounds et al. 2006). There have been efforts devoted to the captive breeding of B. macrostomus and T. culeus (Perez Bejar 2005 and references within). In the first case, reports are conflicting, while in the second case these efforts did not yield captive bred individuals. Given these experiences, it is advisable that further efforts be dedicated to better understanding the biology of these frogs, and to address the more immediate anthropogenic factors, prior to any population management efforts.
A critical conservation measure that needs to be implemented as soon as possible is that of public outreach. Programmes showcasing the threat factors facing these Andean frogs and their habitats would help to increase awareness of their plight. It is important that these programmes be inclusive of local communities, consumers and commercial vendors.
The level of threat facing Andean frogs has been likened to that of the highly endangered genus Atelopus (De la Riva & Lavilla 2008). While we have some understanding of those factors that could be involved in declines, we nonetheless do not know their quantitative impact or their mechanisms of operation. Obtaining this information will require effort and time, but pre-emptive conservation action is needed immediately.
The scope and magnitude of this conservation challenge will call for substantial effort and commitment from key decision makers and stakeholders (e.g., governmental agencies, politicians, non-governmental organisations, research institutes, universities, local communities, the media, etc.). The survival of these unique Andean creatures and the health of their ecosystems will be severely compromised if the scientific and conservationist communities do not respond-and soon.
I am grateful to Ignacio De la Riva and Simon Stuart for their revision of an earlier version of this manuscript. Esteban Lavilla, Edgar Lehr and Mikael Lundberg provided relevant references. I also wish to thank the anonymous reviewer for helpful comments on the manuscript.
1. While this paper was in press, the GAA was updated and published online as part of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Thus, all references to the GAA used in this paper now pertain to the amphibian portal of the IUCN Red List.
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