During the last weeks of February we conducted field work in the high Andes, at the transition of cloud forest and grasslands, near Manu National Park. We are continuing an experiment with leaf litter frogs that we started last December. We are studying the ecosystem roles of leaf litter frogs, in collaboration with Dr. Sparkle Malone, Dr. Sarah Kupferberg and Isabel Diaz.
Leaf litter frogs belong to the family of terrestrial-breeding frogs Strabomantidae. Most of these highly terrestrial frogs are small with short and compact bodies, especially at high elevations. We set up enclosures to compare the effects of frog presence (using the abundant Psychrophrynella usurpator) on ecosystem functioning in grasslands and cloud forest environments. We will measure these effects throughout the wet season (until June). Stay tuned for preliminary results!
Rachel and Kenny will present at our annual Biosymposium at Biscayne Bay Campus next Saturday, 8 February starting at 9 am. Both talks are lighting talks in the afternoon session ( 3:30 pm):
Interactions between disease and consumer driven nutrient recycling in Andean tadpoles
The effects of Bd recognition and avoidance on marsupial frog offspring deposition decisions
Rachel Kaitlin Prokopius
For the month of October the lab traveled back to the high elevation grasslands at Pampas Galeras National Reserve in Peru to conduct research on Telmatobius tadpoles. As part of his doctoral thesis Kenneth Anderson is expanding on the work done here by Andrew Rubio investigating the ecosystem role of Telmatobius, and how that role is changing due to chytridiomycosis.
While the Pampas Galeras National Reserve was founded to protect the vicuñas (a species of camelid prized for its extremely fine wool), it also protects native Telmatobius frogs which live in the streams throughout the reserve. Multiple species of Telmatobius frogs have suffered from major declines due to chytrid but the frogs at Pampas Galeras seems to be co-existing with the disease without massive declines. The effects of chytrid as an enzootic disease have been largely unstudied, so the goal of research on these frogs is to learn how chytrid changes the ecosystem function of these frogs.
Telmatobius tadpoles are specifically useful for looking at this relationship because tadpoles do not die from chytrid. The fungus only grows on their mouthparts and at high levels of infection causes deformations. This is very useful for estimating infection levels in the field and it’s likely that the change to the mouthparts causes a change in diet for the tadpoles as well. We suspect that this change in diet, along with changes in energy and nutrient needs caused by disease will change how tadpoles cycle nutrients with their streams.
To do this Kenneth, along with his dauntless field tech Yasmani Larota Calla, swabbed frogs for disease, and collected urine and feces of tadpoles for nutrient readings. Tadpole urine is easily collected by putting a tadpole in a bag and waiting for about an hour, the water is then filtered to separate the feces and brought back to the field station for ammonium chemistry in the field (using a Turner fluorometer). We’ll come back with another update once or data has been analyzed but we expect that chytrid will change the nutrient ratios in tadpole urine, and we expect that the amount of urine produced plays an important role in the nutrient cycling of these unique high elevation streams.
Alessandro and Alex are just back from the first meeting of the Atelopus Survival Initiative in Medellin, Colombia. More than 80% of this symbolic genus of frogs are threatened by extinction. Together with biologists and conservationists from across the range of this genus, we worked to come up with concrete plans for research and management - focusing on developing capacity in countries of need and improving research across the region. While only the first step, we hope this meeting and the ASI will catalyze cooperation and lead to successful conservation of this incredible group.
Alex just got back from presenting a poster at the first ever joint meeting of The Wildlife Society and the American Fisheries Society in Reno, Nevada. He presented results from his dissertation and participated in the first ever North American session on Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans. Brandon LaBumbard, Catenazzi lab alumnus, also presented.
Undergraduate student Chris Smaga published his first paper today, and it is a new snake genus! The name of the new genus Arcanumophis refers to the enigmatic nature of this small snake. Arcanumophis problematicus had previously been allocated to the genus Erythrolmaprus. Charles W Myers described the species in 1986 with the single known specimen from the Field Museum, which had been collected in 1950 by Hilda Hempl Heller near San Juan del Oro. No other specimen of this snake was known until our rediscovery in 2016! The article is in collaboration with Alex Ttito (see full cite below).
We rediscovered the species during a trip to the abandoned "Inca" mine of Santo Domingo, in the buffer zone of Bahuaja-Sonene National Park (Puno, Peru). This gold mine was very active at the beginning of the XX century, as seen in the photographic collection by Bruce Graham. The mine owners opened a trail through the Limbani Valley, crossing the Inambari river and ascending to Santo Domingo. Although there is little left of the mine, the trail is still in good conditions.
The path to Santo Domingo is narrow (and somewhat treacherous).
Santo Domingo is an important site for herpetological taxonomy because it is the type locality of several species, including species that are the type species of genera (e.g., Noblella peruviana). The main goal of our trip was to examine these type populations, documenting variations in morphology, coloration, etc., that could be useful for comparison with similar species from other valleys in southern Peru and in Bolivia. We were searching the leaf litter when we found the A. problematicus under mosses, very close to the original main camp site of the mine (see below).
Santo Domingo around the 1930s (left, from https://bit.ly/2mjTJEp) and in 2017.
A possible autoapomorphy for the new genus is the presence of a crease on the rostral scale (see photo of our specimen left). In his original description, Myers noticed this crease, but because the holotype was not perfectly preserved, he could not determine whether the crease was an artifact of preservation. The presence of such rostral modification suggests the snake might be semi-fossorial or at least ground dwelling. Our finding the snake in the leaf litter, under layer of mosses, is consistent with the idea that A. problematicus is a ground dwelling snake. But who knows? We will need more than two observations to learn about its natural history.
Smaga, C., A. Ttito, A. Catenazzi. 2019. Arcanumophis, a new genus and generic allocation for Erythrolamprus problematicus (Myers 1986), Xenodontinae (Colubridae) from the Cordillera de Carabaya, southern Peru. Zootaxa 4671: 129-138. https://doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.4671.1.10
The Catenazzi Lab at Florida International University (https://www.catenazzilab.org/) is looking to hire a post-doctoral researcher to work on multiple projects related to amphibian biodiversity and conservation. Our lab pursues several lines of research including amphibian taxonomy, biogeography, conservation genetics, disease ecology and ecological physiology. The post-doc will lead and collaborate in data analysis, modeling efforts, preparation of manuscripts and proposals based on existing data sets and samples. The position offers opportunities for mentoring undergraduate and graduate students at an institution with a large proportion of students under-represented in STEM.
Candidates should have a PhD and demonstrated record of publications. Starting salary for the position is $50k for one year (+ health benefits), with the possibility to apply for an internal Postdoc fellowship in Spring 2020. The position will be based in the Catenazzi Lab, in the Department of Biological Sciences at Florida International University in Miami (https://biology.fiu.edu/). Florida International University is classified by Carnegie as a R1: Doctoral Universities - Highest Research Activity and recognized as a Carnegie engaged university. If interested, please email email@example.com and attach a single PDF that includes a 1-page cover letter explaining research interests and experience, a CV, and a list of three references by September 30th.
Along with our collaborators Roy Santa Cruz and Evaristo López Tejeda from the Universidad Nacional de San Agustín de Arequipa, and Rudolf von May, Courtney Whitcher and Daniel Rabosky the University of Michigan, we describe a new species of minute leaf-litter frog, Noblella losamigos.
The description appeared today in a special issue of the journal Diversity. The new species has a snout-vent length of 9.0-13.6 mm (females are larger than males) and is distributed along a wide elevational range, from 200 to nearly 1500 m asl. Among species of Noblella, it is the only species with a distribution in both lowland Amazon and montane forests of the Amazonian Andes. Specifically, the new species is known to occur at the Los Amigos Biological Station, Madre de Dios, operated by Conservacion Amazonica, and at the Cock of the Rock Biological Station, Cusco, owned and operated by Peru Verde. It has also been found at intermediate elevations.
Similarly to the other species in the genus Noblella, the new species is among the smallest anurans. Small size is a common trait of many leaf-litter frogs, as seen in other species of frogs in the same family (i.e., Bryophryne, Psychrophrynella, etc.), as well as species in other families, such as the tiny Brachycephalus of the Mata Atlantica, or the three species of Mini (Mini ature, Mini mum, and Mini scule) from Madagascar, suggesting similar selective pressure may be driving convergent evolution to small size in the leaf litter environment.
A new collaboration published in Plos One and led by Dr. Rudolf von May documents variation in thermal traits for nearly 60 species of frogs in a diverse lowland Amazonian community. There is a growing interest in investigating the vulnerability of tropical organisms to climate warming, yet little information is available for most species. Lowland species are thought to be at risk because they live in environments that are already hot.
We found substantial variation in tolerance to heat among species. Some species, such as the Pristimantis ockendeni of the photo, are very sensitive to temperatures just above 30°C, whereas most treefrogs and all narrow mouthed frogs (Microhylidae) tolerate much warmer temperatures. In addition to the effects of phylogeny, we assessed the contribution of life history traits and found that both critical thermal maxima and minima were correlated with species’ body size and microhabitat use. We included examination of critical thermal minima because our study system in southern Peru is exposed to cold fronts, which cause temperatures in these lowland Amazon forests to go as low as 10°C. Our data suggest that thermal physiological traits in lowland frogs are evolutionarily labile and exhibit similar rates of thermal physiological change.
News from the lab