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Raiders of the Lost Frogs

August 2, 2012

In 2010, a team of explorers (OK, researchers) set out across the world in search of 100 ‘lost’ frogs. In this post, Will Bibby reports on what they found.

The recent movie ‘The Hunter’ (2011), based on the acclaimed 1999 novel by Julia Leigh, follows a mercenary’s expedition into the Tasmanian Wilderness to find the thought-to-be-extinct Tasmanian Tiger. The idea that a species may not really be extinct, but ‘out there’ somewhere waiting to be found combines the intrigue of exploration, discovery and mystery. Not only does this exciting idea make for a great movie, but it provides the basis for a captivating campaign, too.

The ‘Search for the ‘Lost’ Frogs’ campaign takes this idea and runs with it. In August 2010, Conservation International (CI) and the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group launched this campaign and supported 126 researchers in 21 different countries in their quest to rediscover a list of 100 amphibians not seen this century – and some not seen for almost 200 years! The campaign takes place against the backdrop of the amphibian extinction crisis. Due to climate change, habitat loss and a deadly fungal disease, amphibian populations around the world are being decimated, causing some species to become extinct in just one breeding season.

But why the need for such a campaign? Well, many suggest that amphibians are the canaries down the coal mine for the environment, serving as barometers for environmental change and degradation. In addition they also play a crucial role for many human activities all over the world such as pest control and nutrient cycling.

Poster from the ‘Search for the Lost Frogs’ campaign. Photo courtesy of the Conservation International.

While many of the expeditions came home empty-handed, a promising number had success. In fact, since the start of the campaign 2 years ago, 30 ‘lost’ species have been rediscovered. Among these include three of the campaign’s ‘top 10’ most wanted species: the Rio Pescado Stubfoot Toad (Atelopus balios) of Ecuador, the Bornean Rainbow Toad (Ansonia latidisca) last seen in 1925 and the Hula painted frog (Discoglossus nigriventer) – a species last seen in 1955 and pronounced extinct after the draining of its habitat in Israel.

But the search did not stop there. Inspired by the campaign, a group of Indian conservationists began their own expedition for missing amphibians resulting in the rediscovery of 5 species. Among these finds were the Chalazodes Bubble-nest Frog (Raorchestes chalazodes) – last seen in 1874 – and the Silent Valley Tropical Frog (Micrixalus thampii), which was amazingly rediscovered in a rubbish bin!

Promising as these findings are, the list of lost amphibians has expanded to 219 species that remain ‘lost’, perhaps forever. This drastically highlights the need for renewed and further research into the status of amphibians around the world, some social media engagement might prove to be beneficial to the awareness of this issue, although there’s no need to buy Instagram likes to make it more popular than it should be. The results of the ‘Search for the Lost Frogs’ campaign at once provides hope for previously thought to be extinct species and a stark reminder of the need for urgent policy and conservation efforts to prevent further amphibian population declines.

Works Cited:

Alford, R. 2011, Ecology: Bleak future for amphibians, Nature

Amphibian Specialist Group IUNC 2012, Lost Frogs.

Conservation International 2012, ‘The Search for the Lost Frogs’

Lost! Amphibians of India 2012, ‘In search of ‘lost species’

Marris, E 2012, Fatal frog fungal disease figured out, Nature.

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