New lizard species discovered in Ecuador and Peru


This video says about itself:

Signalling behaviour of the Anolis lizards of Ecuador

10 November 2013

Video by Andrea Narvaez.

Species: Anolis otongae is displaying in front of Anolis gemosus (the green one).

Location: Otonga (cloud forest).

From National Geographic:

Colorful New ‘Dwarf Dragons’ Found in South America

The newfound wood lizards live in Ecuador and Peru—and chances are, there are more yet to be discovered, scientists say.

By Danielle Elliot

PUBLISHED April 06, 2015

Attention Game of Thrones: Three new species of “dwarf dragon” have been discovered in Peru and Ecuador, a new study says.

Due to political unrest in Ecuador, it took nearly a decade for scientists to identify the reptiles, which are commonly called wood lizards. They are the Alto Tambo wood lizard (Enyalioides altotambo), rough-scaled wood lizard (E. anisolepis), and Rothschild’s wood lizard (E. sophiarothschildae).

Wood lizards—which resemble miniature versions of mythical dragons—are among the largest and most colorful lizards in South American forests, making their discovery even more notable, according to scientists. (Also see “Colorful New Lizard Identified in Vietnam.”)

The study, published April 6 in the journal ZooKeys, brings the total number of wood lizard species to 15. That’s nearly twice the number of species known in 2006—giving this group of South American reptiles one of the fastest discovery rates of the past decade.

“I am a very lucky guy,” said study leader Omar Torres-Carvajal, curator of reptiles at the Museo de Zoología QCAZ at the Catholic University of Ecuador in Quito. A prolific discoverer of wood lizards, Torres-Carvajal is also a research collaborator with the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Natural History.

“As I became more expert in the group, it became easier for me to suspect that something’s weird or new.”

Lizard of a Different Color

Scientists spotted the first new species, E. altotambo, in November 2005 in the northern Ecuadoran village of Alto Tambo (map). Bright green and black with smooth scales along most of its nearly five-inch-long (13-centimeter) body, the animal looked just like a related species, E. oshaughnessyi, which has been known since 1881.

But when the team brought the reptile to their lab at the Museo de Zoología, they noticed one major difference: This new lizard had brown eyes, with golden rings around the pupils. E. oshaughnessyi has bright red eyes. (Also see “Dragon-Like, Feathered Dinosaur Was Ace Flyer.”)

They also noted that the scales of the Alto Tambo are smoother than those of E. oshaughnessyi.

One specimen is hardly enough to confirm a discovery, so they decided to wait until they found another specimen. That took five years, because the lizards come from a region of Ecuador that isn’t considered safe for scientists to conduct field research.

“These guys are usually more abundant. The reason we didn’t find more is that we didn’t actually look,” Torres-Carvajal explained.

“We just were too scared to go and look for more.”

“This Is Something New”

Then in 2014, field researchers working along the border of Ecuador and Peru found a large group of wood lizards with distinctly white throats.

The lizards also had spiked scales and dark spots scattered all over their bodies, in combinations that differ from those in related species.

“I’m looking at them saying, ‘This is something new, because it has a combination of traits that I’ve never seen before.’ It was almost immediate—immediate and very exciting,” he said of their identification.

Taxonomist Pablo Venegas, who consults with the Ecuadoran museum but is based at the Center for Ornithology and Biodiversity in Lima, Peru, recognized the white throat scales from wood lizards he had first seen in northern Peru in 2003 and again in 2008.

DNA testing proved the 2003, 2008, and 2014 specimens belonged to the same species, which was dubbed E. anisolepis. (Also see “Pictures: Peru Park Boasts Highest Diversity of Amphibians and Reptiles.”)

As they continued examining other lizards Venegas had collected, the international team recognized a third new species, E. sophiarothschildae.

This reptile also has a white throat, as well as a splash of black and turquoise scales.

That’s not the end of the story. Torres-Carvajal predicts that in southern Ecuador and northern Peru, many more mini-dragons are waiting in the wings.

See also here.

Galapagos tortoises eat invasive plants


This 2014 video is called Galapagos Islands RARE ANIMALS – Giant Tortoise.

From Washington University in St. Louis, USA today:

Endangered tortoises thrive on invasive plants

3 hours ago

Most research on the role of introduced species of plants and animals stresses their negative ecological impacts. But are all introduced species bad actors?

In one fascinating case the answer might be no. The iconic giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands are thriving on a diet heavy on non-native plants. In fact, the tortoises seem to prefer these plants to native ones.

Introduced plants began to increase in abundance on the Galapagos Islands in the 1930s as native highland vegetation was cleared for agriculture, and the rate of introductions has been increasing ever since.

The giant tortoises, for their part, seem headed in the opposite direction. Until the late Pleistocene epoch, they were found on all the continents except Antarctica. Today they survive in only two locations: the Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean, and the Galapagos Archipelago in the eastern Pacific Ocean. In the Galapagos, all of the remaining subspecies are considered vulnerable or endangered.

But now in a surprising turn of events, field research in the Galapagos shows that introduced plants make up roughly half the diet of two subspecies of endangered tortoise. What’s more, these plants seem to benefit the tortoises nutritionally, helping them stay fit and feisty.

The research, published in the March issue of Biotropica, was conducted by Stephen Blake, PhD, an honorary research scientist at Washington University in St. Louis and Fredy Cabrera of the Charles Darwin Foundation in the Galapagos.

“Biodiversity conservation is a huge problem confronting managers on the Galapagos Islands, “Blake said. “Eradicating the more than 750 species of invasive plants is all but impossible, and even control is difficult. Fortunately, tortoise conservation seems to be compatible with the presence of some introduced species.”

Counting bites and bouts

The study was done on the island of Santa Cruz, an extinct volcano that is home to two species of giant tortoise, but also to the largest human population in the Galapagos. Farmers have converted most of the highland moist zones to agriculture and at least 86 percent of the highlands and other moist zones are now degraded by either agriculture or invasive species.

In earlier work, Blake had fitted adult tortoises on Santa Cruz with GPS tags and discovered that they migrate seasonally between the arid lowlands, which “green up” with vegetation only in the wet season, to the meadows of the highlands, which remain lush year-round.

“This struck us as pretty odd, ” he said, “since a large Galapagos tortoise can survive for a year without eating and drinking. This is why sailors would collect the tortoises to serve as a source of fresh meat aboard ship.”

“Why would a 500-pound animal that can fast for a year and that carries a heavy shell haul itself up and down a volcano in search of food?,” Blake said. ” Couldn’t it just wait out the dry season until better times came with the rains?”

The answer, of course, depends on the tortoise’s energy balance. But the only detailed study of tortoise foraging the scientists were aware of had been completed in 1980, “largely before the explosion of introduced and invasive species hit the Galapagos,” Blake said.

Over a period of four years, the scientists followed tortoises in the field and, during 10-minute “focal observations” recorded every bite the tortoises took, the plant species and which part they ate. As an additional measure of the fruits the tortoises were eating, the scientists also counted and identified seeds (sometimes more than 1,000) in tortoise dung piles.

Counts of bites and bouts (defined as all feeding on a given species during the focal observations) showed that tortoises actually spent more time browsing on introduced species than on native ones.

“We weren’t really that surprised,” Blake said. “Consider it from a tortoise’s point of view. The native guava, for example, produces small fruits containing large seeds and a small amount of relatively bitter pulp in a thick skin. The introduced guava is large and contains abundant sweet pulp in a thin, pliable skin.”

The team, which included Sharon Deem, a wildlife veterinarian and epidemiologist at the St. Louis Zoo, also assessed the tortoises’ health and nutritional status, weighing them by suspending them from a spring balance and taking blood samples.

All of the indicators the scientists studied suggest that introduced species in the diet have either a neutral or positive effect on the physical condition of the tortoises. Introduced species may even help tortoises to improve their condition during the dry season.

Since a return to “pristine” conditions is unlikely on the Galapagos, it is heartening to learn that this may not be all bad news for the islands’ charismatic megaherbivores.

Galapagos finches and Charles Darwin


This video says about itself:

Galapagos Finch Evolution — HHMI BioInteractive Video

26 August 2014

The Galápagos finches remain one of our world’s greatest examples of adaptive radiation. Watch as evolutionary biologists Rosemary and Peter Grant detail their 40-year project to painstakingly document the evolution of these famous finches. Their pioneering studies have revealed clues as to how 13 distinct finch species arose from a single ancestral population that migrated to the islands 2 million to 3 million years ago.

Use this video as a supplementary resource for lesson plans centered on teaching evolution. The video expertly illustrates the effects of natural selection on Galápagos finch populations.

Free classroom resources supporting this short film can be found here.

By Frank Nicholas, The Conversation:

April 3, 2015

Darwin’s finches highlight the unity of all life

When Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands in October 1835, he and his ship-mates on board HMS Beagle collected specimens of birds, including finches and mockingbirds, from various islands of the archipelago.

At the time, Darwin took little interest in the quaint , making only a one-word mention of them in his diary. As painstakingly shown by Frank Sulloway and more recently by John Van Whye, it wasn’t until two years later that the finches sparked Darwin’s interest.

By then he had received feedback from the leading taxonomist of the time, John Gould, that the samples comprised 14 distinct species, none of which had been previously described! Gould also noted that their “principal peculiarity consisted in the bill [i.e. beak] presenting several distinct modifications of form”.

So intrigued was Darwin by this variation in size and shape of beaks that in the second (1845) edition of Journal of Researches he included illustrations of the distinctive variation between species in the size and shape of their beaks. He added a comment that:

Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends.

Unfortunately for Darwin, the closer he examined the available evidence on Galapagos finches, the more confusing the picture became. This was partly because the specimens available to him were not sufficiently labelled as to their island of collection.

Presumably, it was his doubt about the available evidence that resulted in Darwin making no mention of Galapagos finches in any edition of Origin of Species.

Why, then, do people now label them as “Darwin’s finches”, and why are these finches now regarded as a classical textbook example of his theory of evolution by natural selection?

Paragons of evolution

Despite not mentioning Galapagos finches, Darwin did make much use of evidence from other Galapagos species (especially mockingbirds) in Origin of Species.

As the influence of Origin of Species spread, so too did the evolutionary fame of the Galapagos Islands. Increasingly, other biologists were drawn into resolving the questions about finches that Darwin had left unanswered.

By the end of the 19th century, Galapagos finches were among the most studied of all birds. By the mid-20th century, there was abundant evidence that Galapagos finches had evolved to fill the range of ecological niches available in the archipelago – a classic example of evolution by adaptive radiation.

Beak size and shape were key attributes in determining adaptation to the different types of food available. In the second half of the 20th century, classic research by Princeton University’s Peter and Rosemary Grant provided evidence of quite strong natural selection on beak size and shape.

Under the hood

New light has also been shed on the evolution of Darwin’s finches in a paper recently published in Nature. In this latest research, the entire genomes of 120 individual birds from all Galapagos species plus two closely related species from other genera were sequenced.

The work was done by a team led by Swedish geneticist Leif Andersson, with major input from Peter and Rosemary Grant, who are still leading experts on the finches.

Comparison of sequence data enabled them to construct a comprehensive evolutionary tree based on variation across the entire finch genome. This has resulted in a revised taxonomy, increasing the number of species to 18.

The most striking feature of the genome-based tree is the evidence for matings between different populations, resulting in the occasional joining of two branches of the tree. This evidence of “horizontal” gene flow is consistent with field data on matings of finches gathered by the Grants.

A comparison of whole-genome sequence between two closely related groups of finches with contrasting beak shape (blunt versus pointed) identified at least 15 regions of chromosomes where the groups differ substantially in sequence.

Unity of life

The most striking difference between the two groups was observed in a chromosomal region containing a regulatory gene called ALX1. This gene encodes a peptide that switches other genes on and off by binding to their regulatory sequences.

Like other such genes, ALX1 is crucially involved in embryonic development. Indeed, mutations in ALX1 in humans and mice give rise to abnormal development of the head and face.

It is an extraordinary illustration of the underlying unity of all life on Earth that Leif Andersson and his colleagues have shown that the ALX1 gene also has a major effect on beak shape in finches, and that this gene has been subject to natural selection during the evolution of the Galapagos finches.

If Darwin were alive today, he would be astounded at the power of genomics tools such as those used in generating the results described in this paper. He would also be delighted to see such strong evidence not only in support of evolution but also in support of one of its major forces, .

Shape-shifting frog discovered in Ecuador


Skin texture variation in one individual Pristimantis mutabilis; note how skin texture shifts from highly tubercular to almost smooth; also note the relative size of the tubercles on the eyelid, lower lip, dorsum and limbs. Image credit: Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

From Sci-News.com:

Pristimantis mutabilis: Scientists Discover Shape-Shifting Frog in Ecuador

Mar 24, 2015

Case Western Reserve University PhD student Katherine Krynak, naturalist Tim Krynak of Cleveland Metroparks’ Natural Resources Division, and their colleagues from the Universidad Indoamerica, the University of Kansas, and organization Tropical Herping, have described a unique species of frog from Reserva Las Gralarias, Pichincha, north-central Ecuador. According to the team, the new species – named Pristimantis mutabilis (mutable rainfrog) – changes skin texture in minutes, appearing to mimic the texture it sits on.

Pristimantis mutabilis, described in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, is believed to be the first amphibian known to have this shape-shifting capability.

It belongs to a large genus of approximately 470 frog species found in the southern Caribbean and in Central and South America from Honduras to northern Argentina and southern Brazil.

The scientists believe the ability to change skin texture to reflect its surroundings may enable Pristimantis mutabilis to help camouflage itself from birds and other predators.

Katherine and Tim Krynak originally spotted the small, spiny frog, nearly the width of a marble, sitting on a moss-covered leaf about a yard off the ground on a misty July night in 2009.

The scientists captured one specimen and tucked it into a cup with a lid before resuming their nightly search for wildlife. They nicknamed the frog ‘punk rocker‘ because of the thorn-like spines covering its body.

The next day, Katherine Krynak pulled the frog from the cup and set it on a smooth white sheet of plastic for Tim Krynak to photograph. “It wasn’t ‘punk’ – it was smooth-skinned,” they said.

The scientists found the frog shifts skin texture in a little more than 3 minutes. They then performed morphological and genetic analyses showing that the frog was a unique and undescribed species.

They also studied the frog’s calls, finding three songs the species uses, which differentiate them from relatives.

In addition, team members Dr Juan Guayasamin and Dr Carl Hutter discovered that Pristimantis sobetes – a previously known species of frog with similar markings but about twice the size of Pristimantis mutabilis – has the same trait when they placed a spiny specimen on a sheet and watched its skin turn smooth.

The team plans to continue surveying for Pristimantis mutabilis and to further document their behaviors, lifecycle and texture shifting, and estimate their population, all in effort to improve our knowledge and subsequent ability to conserve this paradigm shifting species. Further, they hope to discern whether more relatives have the ability to shift skin texture and if that trait comes from a common ancestor.

If Pristimantis mutabilis and P. sobetes are the only species within this branch of Pristimantis frogs to have this capability, they hope to learn whether they retained it from an ancestor while relatives did not, or whether the trait evolved independently in each species.

Rare tortoise babies born on Galapagos island


This video says about itself:

5 March 2015

Baby tortoises were born on the Island of Pinzon, something that likely hasn’t happened since 1880. CNN’s Natalie Allen has this story.

From Associated Press:

Scientists cheered by birth of Galapagos tortoises in wild

Posted: Mar 14, 2015 5:33 AM Updated: Mar 17, 2015 8:36 AM

By GONZALO SOLANO

QUITO, Ecuador – For the first time in a century, babies of the endangered Pinzon giant tortoise have been born in the wild in the Galapagos islands, scientists said.

An expedition in 1970 found only 19 adult tortoises on the archipelago’s Pinzon island, averaging 70 years old, so scientists removed them to start a captive breeding program on Santa Cruz island. The program produced juveniles that were transplanted back to the island, which is the only place the species is found.

Danny Rueda, who is in charge of conservation and restoration of ecosystems in the Galapagos, told The Associated Press that in December six infant Pinzons were found to have been born on the island.

He said there are now 650 juvenile and adult tortoises on Pinzon.

Rueda said the reintroduction of the tortoise was helped by the 2012 campaign to eradicate rats that infested Pinzon and other islands in the archipelago after being introduced long ago by passing ships. The rats prevented the reproduction by tortoises and other species.

“Finding the six baby tortoises tells us that the process of eradicating rats succeeded,” he said.

“We have begun to see that the ecosystem has begun to restore itself” on Pinzon, Rueda added. “It is a process that takes a long time. But the first step is the birth of tortoises in their natural habitat, which a century ago did not happen.”

The Galapagos, an Ecuadorean territory in the Pacific about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from the mainland, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978 because of its unique land and marine animals and vegetation. That flora and fauna helped inspire Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

See also here.

Birdwatching in Ecuador, Galapagos islands


This video says about itself:

21 March 2011

A selection of clips from a birding trip in Northwest Ecuador— the Andes Introtour with Tropical Birding (tropicalbirding.com), guided by Andres Vasquez. Taken with a Canon 7D and 400mm f/5.6L lens.

From the Montana Standard in the USA:

Birding Ecuador, Galapagos Islands

March 08, 2015 12:15 am

Birding in Montana is a lot of fun, but when you have 371 of the 428 species, you don’t often find a new one. Last year I did not get a single new life bird in Montana. My life list sat at 1,466 in 2014, and my goal to see one quarter of the world’s birds or 2,588 species remained stagnant.

The best place to find the most birds is along the Equator in both South America and Africa. I have birded South Africa, Kenya, and Belize in Central America, so it was time to bird South America. My wife, Laura, and I and birding friends from Helena chose Ecuador as it is fairly close, safe, and the currency is the U.S. dollar.

The potential birds to see in Ecuador are nearly unlimited with 1,576 species recorded there. In comparison, the lower 48 states have 920 species, and Ecuador is the size of Nevada. We chose to bird the northwest quarter of Ecuador as that area has a high concentration of different species in a relatively small area. We estimated that we had the possibility of seeing around 600 species, but realistically in 14 days of birding we knew we would not see that many. We were extremely pleased that we were able to see 376 species of which 312 were life birds. That is the largest number of life birds I have ever recorded in a single trip. South Africa netted 275 life birds, Kenya 216, and Belize 99.

We flew into the capital city of Quito which lies in a valley of the Andean mountains at 6,500 feet. Quito is a modern city of three million inhabitants. Ecuador has a population of 15 million, with 70 percent of the population living along the west coast of the country in more hospitable climates. The Andean Mountains are much cooler and wetter than the coast.

LAS GRALARIAS RESERVE

From Quito we traveled to the West Andean Mountains and stayed at Las Gralarias Reserve. The reserve is named after the genus of the Giant Antpitta, a bird first photographed there about 20 years ago. The 1,063-acre reserve was purchased by an American, Jane Lyons, in 1999. Lyons and her nonprofit organization restored and reclaimed the area and it is now host to no less than 266 bird species in 44 families. Of these species 30 are endemic (found only at that location) and 13 are considered to be at risk.

At Las Gralarias we were provided with housing, meals, English-speaking Ecuadorian guides and transportation for 11 days. Each day we would bird from around 6 am to 6 pm, then eat dinner, go to bed and rest for the next day’s adventure. We crossed the Equator at least twice daily. Las Gralarias is at 8,500 feet in the Cloud Forest, and days were cool, (in the 60s) wet, and foggy. Nights were cold as none of the buildings has heat, but blankets on the beds made the difference. Annual rainfall in this region is 150 inches, and some years have accumulated as much as 400 inches. It is known as one of the wettest areas on the earth. Thus we birded with raingear and rubber boots. The small town of Mindo, just below Las Gralarias Reserve in the valley, is known as the birding capital of the world. Paintings of birds are everywhere on buildings, brick walls, and football stadiums.

BIRDING BY ELEVATION

Rather than bird different habitats as you do in Montana, such as grasslands, riparian, and coniferous forest, you bird by elevation. Each 1,000-foot change in elevation brings a new diversity of birds to observe. While in the Western Andean Mountains we birded from 4,000 to 15,000 feet finding different birds at each elevation.

There are 131 species of hummingbirds in Ecuador and they are everywhere. We found 44 species, which were most of the species in the area that we birded. Tanagers are another large family of birds in Ecuador. In Montana we have recorded three species of tanagers. Ecuador has 148 species and we found 53 species. We also spent two days in the Eastern Andean Mountains rounding out our birding of the northwest portion of the country.

In the east, we spent more time at higher elevations near a volcanic mountain that was covered with snow above 20,000 feet. We birded the steep grasslands to 17,000 feet. One of the highlights of the trip was finding the Rufous-breasted Seed-snipe, a grouse type bird, at 17,000 feet in high winds, with the rain coming vertically across the stunted and cushion plant terrain of this elevation. Finding the Seed-snipe was one of the wettest and coldest birding experiences I have had in a foreign country.

Rare and hard-to-find birds that we observed and photographed included: Andean Condor, Aplomado Falcon, Andean Lapwing, Cock-of-the-Rock, Rufescent Screech-owl, Oilbird, Choco Trogon, Giant Antpitta, Long-wattled Umbrellabird, Scarlet-rumped Cacique and Slaty Finch. Photographs of several of these are included with this article.

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

We next flew to the Galapagos Islands and stayed for our last five days of birding. Politically, the islands are part of Ecuador, but are separated by 800 miles of the Pacific Ocean. The flora and fauna are unique. Islands never have large numbers of bird species, but many species are endemic and Galapagos is no exception. A chain of 12 volcanic and intrusive lava flow islands comprise the Galapagos. Many of the islands are unhabituated, and only three have roads. Ninety-five percent of the islands are within the national park system and are highly regulated to prevent nonnative species from invading and endangering the natural flora and fauna.

We flew to Baltra Island from Quito via the port city of Quayaquil. Baltra consists of desert cactuses and an airport. Four planes a day come and go, exchanging 800 visitors daily. From the airport you are transported by bus to the edge of the tiny island. Here, you transfer to a ferry going to the main island of Santa Cruz, which has three small communities. The largest city is Puerto Ayora on the opposite end of the island some 22 miles from the ferry landing.

In all, Galapagos has a population of 14,000 of which the majority work either in the tourist or fishing industries. We stayed in Puerto Ayora in a six-room hotel that served breakfast. On Santa Cruz there are around 70 bird species with the total species count for all of the islands at 149.

However, only 60 bird species are year-round residents. The rest are migrants, and most of those are shorebirds. Here we birded, using local naturalist guides, pelagic boat trips, and on our own. We were able to find 61 species of which 24 are endemic to the Galapagos Islands.

Land and aquatic lizards and tortoises are another unique feature of the Galapagos. Often we would see two- to three-foot lizards crawling along the sand as we birded. In the wetter highlands, we would encounter what first looked like large rocks, only they would get up and move. These tortoises were three to four feet across the shell and between 100 to 150 years old.

FAMOUS FOR FINCHES

Galapagos is famous for the 14 species of finches upon which Darwin based his theory of evolution, with his 1835 voyage. We were fortunate enough to find all nine finch species that are on Santa Cruz Island. Other endemics that were life birds were Swallow-tailed gull, the only nocturnally feeding gull in the world, Lava Gull, and Galapagos Dove, Mockingbird, and Flycatcher.

A bonus to the birding on the Galapagos Islands was the fresh seafood in the open air restaurants at reasonable prices.

In all, we observed 430 birds of which 337 were life birds. I also added nine bird families to my list. I now have seen 153 of the 254 bird families in the world or 65 percent. In terms of cost, we spent less than $35 a bird, which is reasonable and well worth the time and effort. We pushed hard for three weeks to find 430 species, but we had to rest up for a week after we got back. We have a personal slogan for our retirement years, “When the nest is empty go birding,” and that we did. I know many of my readers enjoy watching birds and I hope you are able to experience birding in a foreign country; it truly is a memorable experience.

Now, I’m studying the birds of Australia for my next big trip. Australia’s has 780 species, of which I have only seen 121. If I’m fortunate I should be able to add another 350 to my life list and be a lot closer to my goal of 25 percent of the world’s birds. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be fortunate and even get to 26 percent!

Galápagos birds expand their eating habits. A new ecological concept called “interaction release” explains how certain island birds developed a taste for flowers: here.

Endangered Andean toad rediscovery in Ecuador


In this video, one can hear and see a male of the recently rediscovered toad species Andinophryne olallai call.

From mongabay.com:

Scientists rediscover endangered Andean toad in Ecuador

By Joanna Parkman

January 30, 2015

In 1970 researchers uncovered the Tandayapa Andean toad (Andinophryne olallai), previously unknown to science, in the Pichincha Province of Ecuador. Given that only a single individual was discovered, even after further exploration in the following years, the toad was soon presumed to be extinct. Forty-two years later, however, a research team rediscovered the species in Manduriacu, Ecuador. Their recently published study in Amphibian & Reptile Conservation describes new knowledge of the cryptic Tandayapa Andean toad, including population status, geographic extent, and natural history.

The Rediscovery

While rediscovering an “extinct” species may appear to be an unusual phenomenon, Lynch says that “…approximately 12 percent of [frog and toad] species previously thought to have gone extinct have in recent years been rediscovered.” This suggests that similar occurrences will increase with additional research efforts, especially in the neotropics. Lynch credits a global initiative created in partnership with the Amphibian Survival Alliance to find these so-called Lost Frogs.

“In response to the global amphibian crisis researchers and conservationists in all corners of the world have increased their efforts to understand and protect amphibian populations before they disappear forever,” he told mongabay.com.

Lynch and fellow scientists conducted stream surveys for reptiles and amphibians throughout the premontane tropical forest—directly below the mountainous zone—and cloud forests of Northwest Ecuador. The survey sites, located along the Western slope of the Andes Mountain range near the Cotacahi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, ranged from 1,100 to 1,400 meters (3,609 to 4,593 feet) in elevation.

Most notably, the research team identified a new locality for the long missing Tandayapa Andean toad: Imbabura Province, roughly 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the location where the species was first discovered in 1970. Across the four stream systems sampled, the group observed 18 individuals, including two froglets, five juveniles, and two pregnant adult females.

Other reptiles

not only reptiles. Also amphibians.

observed during surveys included two nationally endangered species—the Darwin Wallace poison-frog (Epipedobates darwinwallacei) and the spiny Lirecko (Lepidoblepharis conolepis)—and one internationally endangered species—the Ricuarte robber frog (Pristimantis scolodiscus)—as well as multiple species that have yet to undergo an assessment.

The rediscovery of the Tandayapa Andean toad is particularly important to the scientific community, as it demonstrates the value of field research, the continued existence of new and unexpected discoveries, and the capacity of species resilience. Furthermore, rediscoveries illustrate the importance of in-situ conservation, or on-site conservation of naturally occurring populations.