On the 11th of Feb, we had an interesting talk on ‘The Conservation Value and Vulnerability of Amphibian Communities along a Tropical Altitudnal Gradient‘ by Jaime Villacampa who has spent a lot of time in tropical areas studying amphibians and their ecology – especially in Peru.
He started off by giving us a bit of background information on tropical amphibians!
- Of the ~7000 species of amphibians, around 600 of these are found in Peru!
- The Manu region of Peru – where Jaime conducted his research – is the most diverse area for amphibians in the world!!
- Tropical areas are good for amphibians because of their huge variety of habitats!
- Tropical areas are also, usually, very humid – this is perfect for amphibians as they need to keep their thin skin nice and moist!
- Many tropical amphibians display very complex behaviours – some, like the glass frog, have structures on their bodies which they use as weapons to fight each other!
- Parental care is also an extensive behaviour in amphibians: many species will protect their eggs and, in some cases, when they hatch the parents will carry the tadpoles to water on their backs!
- A unique and very interesting feature of some tropical amphibians is that their offspring develop directly into little froglets, with no tadpole stage! This only occurs in the tropics, and is a good indicicator of habitat quality.
- Tropical amphibians often enter symbiotic relationships with other species: some frogs will eat insects which predate on tarantula eggs and, in turn, the tarantula protects the frog!
Why choose amphibians to study?
Amphibians are highly threatened all over the world because they have such narrow ecological requirements for their existence. 28% of all amphibian species are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss, habitat degradation and diseases such as chytrid fungus. Therefore, it’s important that we get as much infortmation about them while we still can, and so that we can tackle the challenge of conserving them!
Altitudnal Gradient Research:
- Jaime and his team conducted their research in the Piñi-Piñi mountain range in the Manu region of Peru.
- The lower part of these mountains are covered in lowland tropical forest and the top is dominated by cloud forest, with tiny trees, moss and lichens.
- This area is unprotected and, until Jaime and his team went there, no previous research had been done.
- Their research involved walking night-time transects up the mountain from elevations of 450m up to 1150m, and they did this over the course of a few months during the dry season.
- They found that there was a decline in both amphibian species richness and amphibian diversity with increasing altitude.
- Jaime speculated that since there was no water bodies at higher altitudes, then water-dependent species were unable to live higher up the mountain.
- It was found that the upper and lower sections of the mountain-side has distinctly different communities of amphibians.
What are the consequences of climate change for these amphibian communities?
In response to the ever-changing environment under climate change, amphibian species have 3 options: they can either evolve to cope with the change, migrate to new locations or die.
In the context of the Piñi-Piñi amphibian communites found by Jaime’s research, this presents a problem! Lowland species will be extremely vulnerable to climate change, and water-dependent species will be unable to migrate further up the mountain if there is no water there.
Additionally, species which already live at the highest elevations cannot move any higher! Therefore, they will need to evolve very rapidly to cope with climate change.
All of this means that 35% of the amphibian species recorded in this study are under severe threat from climate change, and with an increase in temperature of 5 degrees predicted by 2100, this is a problem.
- Jaime’s study found 2 new direct-developing species in the very top range of the mountain!
- Using the results from this study, conservation effort for tropical amphibians wil hopefully be able to be maximised!
- In order to do this, the whole gradient of the mountain must be protected to benefit both the lowland and high-altitude communities of amphibians in the Piñi-Piñi mountain range!
Thank you to Jaime for this interesting and insightful talk! Jaime conducted this research in association with the CREES Foundation. If you’d like to know more about them and the work they do, have a look at their website or Facebook page!