• Pedro Peloso


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A new project will search for and document all Brazilian amphibians threatened with extinction. The project, titled Documenting Threatened Species (DoTS), will also test whether threatened species are more vulnerable to a fungal disease that is wiping out frog populations around the World.

Exquisite beauty highly threatened with extinction—Critically Endangered. The Rio Pomba Casque-headed Frog (Aparasphenodon pomba) is among the most beautiful frogs of Brazil, but is only known from a single locality, a privately owned land in Minas Gerais. (Photo: Pedro Peloso / Projeto DoTS)

Frogs, toads and salamanders are sensitive to changes in the environment and many have very small areas of existence. As a consequence, many species of amphibians face significant risks of vanishing from the planet within the next few years. Global estimates indicate that four in every ten species of amphibians are threatened with extinction, and several species are already extinct. In Brazil - the world’s most biodiverse - at least 41 species of frogs are threatened with extinction, and one species is now officially classified as extinct. A new project led by biologist Pedro Peloso, a professor at Universidade Federal do Pará, Brazil, is seeking to build a photo portfolio for each of threatened amphibian species. To achieve this goal, Peloso and his team of Brazilian and international researchers will continue to search for the 42 rare and threatened species in the wild.

The Volcano Treefrog (Bokermannohyla vulcaniae) is Critically Endangered with extinction because it is only found in a single locality, Poços de Caldas, state of Minas Gerais Brazil. (Photo: Pedro Peloso / Projeto DoTS)

The main goal of Documenting Threatened Species (DoTS) is to build a database of life-history information and images for each of Brazil’s threatened amphibian species. Very few high-quality images are available for the vast majority of threatened species -- "we are losing these species before people get to know them; we want to go out in the field and compile imagery that we hope will get people to care more about these incredible animals" said Peloso.

The Admirable Red-bellied Toad (Melanophryniscus admirabilis) can only be found within a 500m stretch of the Forqueta River in Rio Grande do Sul. The vegetation of the region continues to be converted into agricultural land, and the rivers’ water is being polluted by chemicals used in nearby plantations—the species considered Critically Endangered with extinction. (Photo: Pedro Peloso / Projeto DoTS).

Although only one of the 42 focal species is listed as extinct according to Brazil’s red list, specialists believe that more may already vanished from our planet. "At least four other species have not been seen for decades" said Ibere Machado, from Instituto Boitatá, an NGO focused on research and education about the importance of amphibians and reptiles for ecosystem functioning and human well-being. "As long as natural habitat remains, there is a chance we might see these frogs again, and we are not giving up on these species. We will search for all these lost frogs!", concludes Machado.

Over the last few decades, documented and anecdotal declines of multiple species have been reported worldwide, but the reasons for declines and widespread extinctions are not fully understood. Most common known causes of amphibian declines and extinction are linked to habitat loss and the emergence of chytridiomycosis; a disease caused by the frog-killing fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Guilherme Becker, a professor at the University of Alabama and a specialist in amphibian diseases in Brazil will use data collected by the DoTS project to understand the processes behind amphibian declines and extinction in Brazil. "Our preliminary results point to a strong relationship between an upsurge of chytridiomycosis during the late 1970s and the disappearance of dozens of amphibian populations in Brazil during the same period. It is likely that the frog-killing fungus still plays a major role in amphibian conservation in Brazil--Understanding the causes of amphibian declines is key to mitigate recurring population declines and extinctions." says Becker.

This frog was part of a huge controversy in Brazil. The construction of a road cut through one of the few remaining suitable patches of habitat that holds a healthy population of the Critically Endangered Dward Frog (Physalaemus soaresi). The finding of the species in the area forced changes in the original project, making it longer and more expensive – but it paid off, it helped save the species. (Photo: Pedro Peloso / Projeto DoTS)

First Results

In its first expeditions, project members Pedro Peloso and Iberê Machado were joined by biologist and collaborator Marcelo Sturaro, from Universidade Federal de São Paulo, and surveyed several field sites in the states of Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina. "The results were highly encouraging. We had a list of nine species that we targeted in these two expeditions, and were able to find eight of them" says Peloso. We were able to understand the immediate threats to each species and also get to know people that have been trying to study these species for a long time”, he concludes.

Ibere Machado explains that the project is extremely important to raise awareness about amphibian conservation and he hopes the project will raise awareness among federal authorities. “Some species are a lot more vulnerable than others. Many of these threatened species are only known from one or a few locations or are only found in protected areas such as state or national parks”, warns Ibere.

The team documented four species that are listed as Critically Endangered, the highest threat level according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (www.iucnredlist.org).

Thoropa saxatilis occurs in southern Brazil and inhabits wet rocky outcrops at the edge of rivers and waterfalls. Deforestation, water pollution and damage by tourists are the immediate threats to the species. This frog lays its eggs over wet rocks during the summer, which coincides with the period of highest tourist activity in the area—eggs and juveniles are commonly stepped on by tourists unaware of their presence. (Photo: Pedro Peloso / Projeto DoTS).

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