Tomato Frog Research
To study the distribution and life history of tomato frogs in Madagascar
Madagascar is known for the increasing deforestation rate, with slash and burn cultivation. Since a great part of the more than 220 Malagasy amphibian species is closely tied to the rainforest belt, one has to expect that the destruction of the rainforest will be accompanied by the extinction of many species. Beside the emblematic lemurs, the frogs of Madagascar have indeed the potential of becoming a real tool for wildlife conservation. This was highlighted during the recent Amphibian Conservation Action Plan held in Washington in September 2005. Furthermore, some species are actively traded for the pet market. This applies a.o. to the tomato frog, Dyscophus antongili, which, according to current knowledge, occurs only in a limited area of NE Madagascar, around Maroantsetra. Some time ago a project entitled "Threatened amphibians of Madagascar" was started, aiming at collecting basic life history data on the rarest frog species, especially those that are traded. The project includes research on:
- the distribution of critically endangered, endangered, and data deficient species,
- the effectiveness of the existing protected area network to assure the survival of the most iconic species,
- the possibility to increase awareness of the local people,
- the possibility to assure captive breeding programs if so required.
This project mainly focusses on the tomato frogs Dyscophus antongili and D. guineti. Although currently classified as "near threatened" (and therefore apparently not so immediately in danger), D. antongili is the only species included in CITES Appendix I, since it was traded in the past. Since 1988, this inclusion has prevented further trade, but also has given the "feeling" that D. antongili did not suffer any problem in terms of conservation and habitat requirement. This is indeed not true, since virtually only little study was conducted on the ecology and distribution of this species, and it seems that in some places the habitat has been severely degraded and the species is suffering from this. Furthermore, the much similar D. guineti, which is known from mid-altitude sites along the east coast, has been conversely subject to collecting. In fact, as a consequence of the inclusion of D. antongili in CITES Appendix I, the pet trade concentrated on the much similar and equally attractive D. guineti which benefits from no legal protection. The impact of the trade on this species is completely unknown, and also the extent of trade is not yet surveyed.
Previous research projects already contributed to clarifying some taxonomic aspects and support the specific distinctness between D. antongili and D. guineti, but yet much remains to be done.
The project has the following aims:
- To get a more complete drawing on the distribution and abundance of D. antongili and D. guineti by verifying the historical sites reported in literature or in museum collections.
- To collect basic data of life history of both the species, such as sex ratio, body size, number of eggs laid per female, age structure and bioacoustics, mating behaviour, and using them to define conservation strategies.
- To collect data on the species’ trade, and to understand whether the captive breeding of D. guineti could be economically sustainable in terms of pet-trade.
- To develop a model to understand whether such populations are in balance with the habitat, and whether they could support population bottlenecks due to habitat degradation and/or collecting for trade purpose.
- To clarify whether D. antongili and D. guineti have a different ecology and distribution.
- To use D. antongili and D. guineti as flagship species for the conservation of the amphibians of Madagascar.
- To develop local awareness, in particular with the implementation of in situ capacity building with the local stakeholders.
- To develop local capacity in carrying out study projects on the endangered amphibian fauna, through the realisation of independent study sessions.
- To provide training in herpetological fieldwork methods to Malagasy counterparts.
The project will be one of the step stones in the increase of knowledge on amphibian conservation in Madagascar, and will assure a major visibility of the action plan using the tomato frogs as charismatic flagship species for the amphibian conservation.
WAZA Conservation Project 06001 is operated by the Museo Regionale di Scienze Naturali, Torino (Italy), and Gondwana Conservation reserach, Cologne (Germany), supported by the following zoos: Zurich Zoo, St. Louis Zoo,Acquario di Genova, and The Living Rainforest.
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