Squamates count a new genus with the description of Dendrosauridion yanesha, a new species of arboreal lizard from the Amazonian slopes of the Andes in central and southern Peru (photo above by M. Lundberg). The article authored by collaborator Dr. Edgar Lehr appeared today in the latest issue of the journal Salamandra. This new lizard had been identified as a distinct taxon and lineage in previous molecular phylogenies. The new genus Dendrosauridion can be distinguished morphologically from all other similar genera (in the group Cercosaurinae) by having the lower palpebral disc transparent and undivided, dorsal scales smooth, lateral scales distinctly smaller than dorsal scales, and lateral scales adjacent to ventrals non-granular, not forming a distinct longitudinal line along body axis. The new lizard has only been found at two localities, near Oxapampa in central Peru and near Abra Malaga in southern Peru, but its secretive and arboreal habits might make it difficult to detect at other sites. It is possible that Dendrosauridion yanesha has a larger distribution and/or that it is a more abundant species than we document in the paper. Along with our recent discovery of Euspondylus excelsum and other arboreal lizards, the addition of D. yanesha shows that the montane forest canopy of the Amazonian Andes still harbors an underestimated biodiversity of squamates.
In collaboration with Dr. Rudolf von May, we are co-editing a special issue of the journal Diversity dedicated to the Systematics and Conservation of Neotropical Amphibians and Reptiles.
The purpose of this special issue is to gather original studies focusing on herpetological systematics and conservation. We welcome contributions focusing on any Neotropical group of amphibians and/or reptiles, and which use original data or modeling of available data, aimed at improving the use of systematic and taxonomic knowledge for conservation. We also encourage papers proposing new methods to accelerate taxonomic studies, including those that present technological advances to quickly generate molecular data. This special issue will be open to all facets of conservation, ranging from applied conservation (i.e., to improve captive breeding programs, help design protected areas, or to design education projects) to policymaking and assessments of species threat status. We especially encourage reports of successful conservation initiatives that rely on the use of newly generated taxonomic information.
We welcome submissions until 30 June 2019. Learn more at https://bit.ly/2BfgRs3
Photo of Dendrobates tinctorius azureus courtesy of Emanuele Biggi.
Alex, Kenny and Mike (Dr. Donnelly's lab) presented at the FIU Biology Research Symposium on Saturday 2 February. The Biosymposium is a celebration of research conducted by students in the biological sciences at FIU. The purpose of the Symposium is to allow students to present their projects, proposals, and results in a friendly, yet professional atmosphere. At the same time, the entire Department of Biological Sciences benefits as people become familiar with the work of others. We had three prospective students visiting our lab and FIU during the weekend. Our lab presentations were:
Environmental Release of Bd: Shedding rates across an amphibian community, by Alex Shepack (oral, 15 min)
Metabolic ecology of over 100 species of amphibians across a 5,000 meter elevational gradient in the Peruvian Andes, by Mike Britton (oral, 15 min) - won 2nd prize for best oral presentation!
Effects of chytridiomycosis on fecal nutrients in tadpoles, by Kenny Anderson (oral, lighting talk)
The newest lab contribution is a review paper on amphibian skin peptides and their role in defense and healing published today in the journal Molecules. This paper is a collaboration with Dr. Elena Grasselli and her team and colleagues at Università degli Studi di Genova. The article reviews the many known roles of these peptides in protecting amphibians from microbes, predators, parasites, and more generally environmental insults. It emphasizes research on the documented function of some frog skin peptides as promoters of wound healing. One section discusses the role of skin peptides in inhibiting chytrid fungal growth, and in protecting frogs of some species from lethal chytridiomycosis. The sheer number and diversity of amphibian skin peptides, which is constantly being accrued by discoveries from newly sampled species, may contribute to a rich pharmacopeia of compounds benefiting human health.
A new note authored by our collaborator Alex Ttito and published today in Zootaxa documents new geographic records for the southern Peruvian terrestrial breeding frog Oreobates amarakaeri. This species was recently described from the foothills of the Andes in the Cusco province of Quispicanchis, but our surveys broaden the known distribution northward to Manu NP and southward to Bahuaja Sonene. Near Bahuaja, we found O. amarakaeri very close to the type locality of O. granulosus, although the two species do not seem overlap altitudinally.
Alessandro attended the 3rd Colombian Congress of Herpetology in Bogota the first week of December. He was one of the plenary speakers for a symposium dedicated to Herpetofauna Conservation organized by Vicky Flechas, Aldemar Acevedo, Nicolas Urbina and Orlando Armesto.
A paper authored by lab member Andrew Rubio and published today in the journal Diseases of Aquatic Organisms investigates the possible role of the antifungal bacterium Janthinobacterium lividum in protecting high-elevation Andean water frogs of the genus Telmatobius. These frogs are highly susceptible to chytrid fungal infections, and populations of most species inhabiting cloud forest streams have sharply declined or have not been seen since the chytrid epizootics that occurred over the last two to three decades.
The bacterium Janthinobacterium lividum inhibits the growth of Bd on the host, reduces morbidity, and improves survival. It produces a purple compound, as seen in the picture here, which inhibits fungal growth. Despite the widely documented vulnerability of Telmatobius frogs to chytridiomycosis, populations of T. intermedius, T. marmoratus and other high-elevation species persist in southern and central Peru. These species inhabit streams and wetlands above the treeline, in open habitats exposed to sunlight during the day, so there could be multiple environmental factors contributing to population persistence. In this study, we wanted to investigate whether the presence of J. lividum in several populations of Telmatobius was correlated with prevalence and intensity of chytrid infection.
We sampled nearly 130 adult frogs for both chytrid and bacterium, and found that the probability of an individual being infected with the chytrid disease was independent of the presence of the protective bacterium. However, we did detect a protective effect of J. lividum with respect to intensity of infection. The wide distribution of J. lividum in the high Andes stands in stark contrast to its rarity in lower elevation cloud forest habitats, where most species of Telmatobius have disappeared.
During the weekend of 3-4 November our lab traveled to Archbold Biological Station for a lab retreat. Archbold is a unique type of station and private reserve, protecting a large remnant of the southernmost extension of the highly endangered Florida scrub habitat. The station has amazing infrastructure, including an education center, a GIS lab, collections, active research labs and cabins for visiting researchers. We rented two of these cabins for an intensive brainstorming session with hiking and cooking breaks. Very happy to have chosen Archbold as our destination for our first lab retreat in Florida.
Great news for the lab, Kenny and Alex were awarded FIU Tropics grants for field research (Kenny) and to attend a bioinformatics workshop (Alex). Congrats to both of them! FIU Tropics is research center at FIU and was launched in 2016. FIU Tropics is recognized as a collaborative endeavor with great potential to provide unique student opportunities and pioneer research and engagement. FIU Tropics integrates more than 50 faculty members in synergistic projects focused on describing biodiversity, discovering uses and sustainable production systems for tropical natural products, conserving tropical species and ecosystems, and shared capacity building and education with partners around the globe.
This week Tropical Conservation Science publishes our last contribution to a survey of chytrid prevalence in lowland Amazonian forests led by our collaborator Dr. Rudolf von May from the University of Michigan. The chytrid fungus has caused precipitous population declines and the collapse of many amphibian species throughout the world, especially in mountains and in places that are moist and moderately cool - just the conditions many amphibians like.
However warm and moist places such as tropical lowland forests are the ecosystem of greatest amphibian species richness. The highest species richness is found in lowland Amazonian forests, known to be home to over 90 species of amphibians at a single site. Considering that chytrid is capable to infect and cause mortality in multiple amphibian hosts, there is potential for for this disease to wreak havoc in these mega diverse places. Yet most of the lowland Amazon amphibian communities that are being surveyed are not declining due to chytrid.
One reason this might not be happening has traditionally been associated to the constant high temperatures found in the lowland Amazon, which are supposed to exceed the thermal tolerance of the fungus. When grown in the lab, the chytrid fungus does not grow and zoospores are killed at temperatures above 28C. Our study shows that temperatures above 28C occur frequently at Los Amigos, a biological station in lowland Amazonian Peru.
Therefore one would expect not to find chytrid in the lowland Amazon, or to find very few infected animals. That's not what we found after surveying the frog community of Los Amigos, in southeastern Peru, because nine species, including Adenomera andreae shown here and Hamptophryne boliviana shown above, were infected by chytrid. Although infection levels were low, our findings suggest that the chytrid can affect amphibians even in very warm places.
News from the lab