An article published last month in the journal Science reports that amphibians are even more imperilled than previously thought. Forty-one researchers from around the world pulled together published literature, reports, and expert interviews to summarise the current state of amphibian declines. They found the amphibian chytrid fungus has been responsible for the decline of at least 501 species, including 90 extinctions. While a small percentage of declined species have shown some signs of recovery, 39% of the affected species continue to decline. The fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis or chytrid) continues to spread and may still cause major declines, especially in the tropics where amphibian diversity is highest.
The frog used as the featured image in the New York Times article (above) summarising the Science article is a Copan Brook Frog or Mossy Red-eyed Frog (Duellmanohyla soralia), an endangered species found only in the forests along the eastern part of the Honduras-Guatemala border. One of its last strongholds is Cusuco National Park in northwestern Honduras. Though the national park provides the species at least some protection from threats like habitat loss, the species is susceptible to the chytrid fungus and is experiencing population decline as a result.
Among the conclusions made by the authors of the Science article is the need for new research and intensive monitoring to track population trends and develop mitigation and recovery methods. I have a unique, and it seems, well-timed opportunity to be able to help with some of this research and monitoring. I have accepted a position with Operation Wallacea, a tuition-funded conservation research organisation, as a Herpetologist (Amphibian & Reptile Biologist) working at Cusuco National Park for about 8 weeks in June and July.
I will be leading groups of students on a variety of herpetological surveys. We will be continuing and expanding 15 years of herpetofauna diversity and abundance surveys as well as contributing to a more than 10-year dataset tracking the prevalence of chytrid fungus in several vulnerable frog species, like the Copan Brook Frog and two endemic species of Spike-thumb Frog (Plectrohyla) found only within the national park. Cusuco National Park is a biodiversity hotspot and Key Biodiversity Area. In addition to 100 species of amphibians and reptiles, the park is home to 270 bird species, 35 bat species, and a few larger mammals, including howler monkeys, jaguars, and Baird’s Tapir.
This is an amazing opportunity to contribute to meaningful and much-needed research while passing on some of my experience and my passion for herpetology to the students. I’m also looking forward to photographing the spectacular diversity of wildlife.
Unfortunately, as Operation Wallacea is funded by student tuition, they are unable to pay for all of my travel from Australia to Honduras. So, I have created a GoFundMe campaign to help defray some of the costs. If this sounds like a project you would like to support and you would like to receive a one-of-a-kind photographic print or calendar featuring the unique and beautiful wildlife of Cusuco National Park, please follow the link to my GoFundMe campaign.