New Central American frog species at risk


A new Central American frog discovered in Panama, P. educatoris/
Copyright (c) Andrew Crawford

Scientists recently discovered two brand new frog species in Panama. The exciting news is tempered by fears that these new frogs could end up fighting for for survival since they live in the Central American region where chytrid fungus has devastated the herpetofauna.

University of Maryland herpetologist Karen Lips has conducted intensive surveys of frogs and toads in Central America since 1998, and was one of the first scientists to sound the warning calls about the devastation chytridiomycosis–an infectious disease caused by the Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) fungus–had wreaked on the amphibian fauna in this region. While studying frogs at Omar Torrijos National Park–in the Cordillera Central or El Copé region of central Panama–she kept catching frogs that looked like Pristimantis caryophyllaceus but were consistently larger than specimens collected elsewhere.

Lips thought she may have a new species on her hands, but it wasn’t until a couple years later that her graduate student Mason Ryan along with Tom Giermakowski, from the University of New Mexico’s Museum of Southwestern Biology, used morphological studies to show that Lips had indeed discovered a new species. They just published that study in the Journal of Herpetology.

Ryan and Lips decided on the scientific name P. educatoris to honor Lips’ mentor and educator, Jay Savage. “We sat around bouncing names around until we came up with one that we thought was appropriate,” says Ryan. “educatoris was special because Jay Savage was Karen's mentor and Ph.D. advisor. He helped me get into graduate school and has been a mentor to me as well.”

Ryan also played a role in identifying another new species, Pristimantis adnus. Andrew Crawford, a professor at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, discovered this frog in the remote Darién region of western Panama. Crawford was not sure that he had a new species on his hand because it looked similar to P. ridens, although it had spots on the back of its thighs. He had Ryan take morphological measurements, and sure enough, the combination of evidence suggested they had another new species on their hands. The ADN in the specific specific epithet, adnus, is the Spanish acronym for DNA, and was chosen to highlight the value of genetic tools for identifying new species.

All the intense herping in Central America has begun to pay off. Scientists have now named 197 species in Costa Rica and Panama and have described 15% of these just in the last seven years. Scientist started Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project to rescue frogs before they go extinct from the fungus, which has hit particularly hard in this region.

Ryan has another scientific paper coming out soon in the next month's Copeia that identifies a third new frog species from the El Copé region of Panama as Craugastor evanesco (vanishing Craugastor). He and his colleagues believe the frog has most likely already gone extinct in the park where they found it, and possibly altogether. "Its disappearance coincided with the arrival of chytrid," says Ryan. "Due to the limited known range of this species and absence from surveys after the decline we believe it is locally extinct within the park.  It is possible new populations will be found at lower elevations. There are a lot of unexplored mountains and valleys in Panama that could potentially harbor some of these species."

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