Life Raft for Frogs
To promote the survival of amphibians in Ecuador by means of breeding, research and environmental education
Amphibians are irreplaceable elements of biodiversity because of their environmental, economic, scenic and cultural value. Amphibians are among some of the poorliest known animals and the more propense to disappear. During the last two decades, the distribution ranges of many amphibian species have been reduced, and catastrophic population declines and extinctions have occurred all around the world, even in protected and pristine areas. Nowadays, amphibians constitute the most threatened animal group of the planet. Worldwide, a third of the amphibians is at risk of extinction (1,856 species).
Ecuador belongs to the "megadiverse" countries of the world, which support 70% of the animal and plant species of the planet. This extraordinary natural wealth is well represented in the diversity of amphibians (456 species currently known), with Ecuador being the third country in number of amphibians species; 40% of these species are endemic. There is increasing scientific evidence that amphibians inhabiting the Andean region are facing greater extinction risk; 84% of the threatened amphibian species live in this region.
The Ecuadorian amphibian fauna is currently considered one of the most threatened of the planet. Recent estimations of the amphibian conservation status in Ecuador indicate that not least than 140 species are at risk of extinction and 25 of them are presumably already extinct. However, this number may be underestimated because available information is insufficient to establish the conservation status of 126 further amphibian species. It is expected that the number of species listed as threatened with extinction will increase as more information is gathered.
Three factors have been identified as the main causes of the dramatic amphibian losses:
- Climate change: The global increase in the annual average temperature was about 0.5 °C in the last century. In the Ecuadorian Andes the temperature increase has been three times greater than the world average. The warm and dry climate has devastating effects for the amphibians, because they are susceptible to dehydration by the loss of water through their skin. Furthermore, climatic change favours the growth and proliferation of pathogens, among which is Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a fungus involved in many amphibian species declines and even extinctions.
- Infectious diseases: Pathogens (fungi and virus) are linked to amphibian declines. Ecuador was the first South American country to confirm the presence of the fungus B. dendrobatidis, responsable of a lethal disease (chytridiomycosis) affecting amphibians. Many species along the Andean region are infected.
- Habitat loss and fragmentation: Deforestation and pollution, among other factors, affect the integrity of ecosystems that are being transformed or quickly fragmented.
Immediate actions are needed to prevent further loss of amphibian species. Coordinated strategies must be articulated and executed to protect and restore affected populations. However, in Ecuador, the adoption of such policies is precluded by several factors: (a) poor knowledge of the amphibian fauna; (b) insufficient traditional conservation strategies; (c) limited local capacities to carry out conservation actions in an effective and sustainable way; (d) scarce support and participation of various actors from the society in amphibian conservation activities.
The project aims to contribute to the conservation of the global biological diversity by taking concrete actions, conjointly with national and international efforts, to counteract the imminent amphibian extinction crisis. The objective is to catalyse and optimise the protection and recovery of the Ecuadorian native amphibians at risk of extinction through the implementation of a Strategic Plan of Conservation.
WAZA Conservation Project 07005 is implemented and funded by the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador in Quito, Ecuador. The Amphibian Ark provides continued technical support in collaboration with the amphibian section of the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Atlanta Zoo and San Diego Zoo.
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