Re-discovered Species Offer Hope for Haiti, as Nation Marks Difficult Anniversary
Arlington, VA — As the people of Haiti mark
a painful anniversary this week and slowly rebuild their earthquake-torn
country, scientists from Conservation International (CI) and
the Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG) of IUCN report news they
hope might become a source of pride and hope for the country's environmental
future: the surprising re-discovery of six species of globally unique frogs in
the country's severely degraded tropical forests, which had been lost to science
for nearly two decades.
Inspired by Conservation International's global search for "lost frogs", the announcement follows an
expedition to the remote mountains of southern Haiti this past October, led by
CI's Amphibian Conservation Specialist Dr. Robin Moore in partnership with Dr.
Blair Hedges of Pennsylvania State University. Their goal: to search for the
long lost La Selle Grass frog (E. glanduliferoides) which had not been
seen in more than 25 years, as well as assess the status of many of Haiti's 48
other native species of amphibians, many of which depend on the country's
shrinking mountain regions — Massif de la Hotte in the southwest and and Massif
de la Selle in the southeast.
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While the missing frog continued to evade scientists, the team reported six
other species of amphibian re-discoveries that had not been seen for nearly two
decades, including: a whistling frog named after composer Wolfgang Amadeus
Mozart; a burrowing frog with huge jet-black eyes and vivid orange markings on
its hind legs; an elusive ventriloqiual frog that has the ability to 'throw' its
voice to confuse potential predators; and a speckled frog with extremely rare,
sapphire-colored eyes. EDITORS: DOWNLOAD PHOTOS HERE
"It was incredible", said Dr. Moore. "We went in looking for one missing
species and found a treasure trove of others. That, to me, represents a welcome
dose of resilience and hope for the people and wildlife of Haiti."
With large-scale deforestation leaving the country less than two-percent of
its original forest cover and degrading most of the fresh water ecosystems
Haitians depend on, the cloud forests of the southwest mountains stand as two of
the last remaining pockets of environmental health and natural wealth in Haiti.
In fact, the Massif de la Hotte has been highlighted by the Alliance for Zero
Extinction (AZE) as the third-highest site-level conservation priority in the
world, with 15 endemic amphibian species found there and nowhere else.
"A common assumption about Haiti is that there is nothing left to save", said
Moore, who also documents his findings as a photographer with the International League of Conservation
Photographers (iLCP). "That is not entirely true. There are biologically
rich pockets intact, despite tremendous environmental pressures. Haiti now has
the opportunity to design their reconstruction plans around these pockets, and
grow them, so they can more effectively act as natural buffers to climate change
and natural disasters."
However, there is precious little time to waste, added Dr. Hedges. As in
other parts of the world, Haiti's amphibian populations are in danger of
disappearing with a staggering 92 percent of the country's amphibian species
listed as threatened. Globally, more than 30 percent of all amphibian species
are threatened with extinction.
"The biodiversity of Haiti, including its frogs, is approaching a mass
extinction event caused by massive and nearly complete deforestation. Unless the
global community comes up with a solution soon, we will lose many unique species
forever", said Hedges.
Moore, along with Hedges and several others, spent eight days and nights in
the southern Haitian cloud forests, scouring trees, riverbeds, and ground cover
for amphibians. In that time, the team found an encouraging 25 unique species
out of the country's 49 known native species. Amid the backdrop of Haiti's
struggle to rebuild, Moore added some important context.
"The devastation that the people of Haiti are still coping with is almost
unimaginable. I have never seen anything like it", said Moore, who has explored
regions in Haiti three times, before and following the earthquake. "Clearly, the
health of Haiti's frogs is not anyone's primary concern here. However, the
ecosystems these frogs inhabit, and their ability to support life, is critically
important to the long-term well-being of Haiti's people, who depend on healthy
forests for their livelihoods, food security and fresh water. Amphibians are
what we call barometer species of our planet's health. They're like the canaries
in the coal mine. As they disappear, so too do the natural resources people
depend upon to survive."
Among the team's amphibian rediscoveries are the following six species, which
are all listed as Critically Endangered. (Download images of these frogs. Please credit
- Hispaniolan Ventriloquial Frog – last seen in 1991
(Eleutherodactylus dolomedes) Maximum length 21.6mm. Elevation 1120 m.
This frog is named after its call, which it projects like the ventriloquist
which inspired its name. Its unusual call consists of a rapid, seven-note series
of chirps, with the initial four notes rising slowly in pitch before plateauing;
the call is released in widely-spaced intervals, often minutes apart. Prior to
this expedition, the species was only known from a few individuals.
- Mozart's Frog – last seen 1991 (E. amadeus)
Maximum length: 25mm; elevation 1000-2340 m. Called Mozart's frog because when
Blair Hedges, who discovered the species, made an audiospectrogram of the call,
it coincidentally resembled musical notes. Its call is a four-note muffled
whistle at night; usually given as a shorter, two-note call at dawn and dusk.
- La Hotte Glanded Frog – last seen 1991 (E.
glandulifer) Maximum length: 53mm. Elevation 303-1886m. This frog's most
distinctive feature is its striking blue sapphire-colored eyes – a highly
unusual trait among amphibians.
- Macaya Breast-spot frog – last seen 1991 (E.
thorectes) Maximum length 15.1mm. Elevation 1700-2340m. Approximately the
size of a green grape, this is one of the smallest frogs in the world. In Haiti,
this species has a very restricted range, occurring only on the peaks of Formon
and Macaya at high elevations on the Massif de la Hotte.
- Hispaniolan Crowned Frog – last seen 1991 (E.
corona) Maximum length 19.1mm. This species was named after a subtle row of
protuberances that resemble a crown on the back of its head. Prior to this
expedition, the species was known from less than 10 individuals, and is likely
to be extremely rare. It is an arboreal species, occurring in high-elevation
cloud forest. Males call from bromeliads or orchids, which they appear to
require for reproduction.
- Macaya Burrowing Frog - last seen 1996 (E. parapelates)
A surprise find: This is the first record of this species from this area
(previously only known from two localities on the Massif de la Hotte). This is
now the only place where two burrowing frogs are known to share the same
habitat. This species is quite spectacular, with big jet black eyes and bright
orange flashes on the legs. Males call from shallow, underground chambers and
eggs are also laid underground, where they hatch directly into
Conservation International's Search for Lost Frogs, which was launched in the
summer of 2010, is an unprecedented search to locate species that have not been
seen in a decade or more, and which are feared to be extinct. The search, which
has expanded to local teams in 19 countries on five continents, has led to three
species rediscoveries in the past six months, including: a Mexican salamander
not seen since it was discovered in 1941, a frog from the Ivory Coast not seen
since 1967 and another frog from Democratic Republic of Congo not seen since
Moore added, "Finding six lost species in these relatively small corners of
the country tells us that, despite tremendous human pressures, nature is hanging
on in Haiti. There is reason to hope. Managed properly, these species and
ecosystems can become a source of natural wealth and national pride for the
country, that we hope will offer long-term benefits for its people."
The first phase of the Search for the Lost Frogs campaign has concluded, and
further rediscoveries are expected to be announced this winter, with a new
search launching later this year. To follow the campaign, please visit: www.conservation.org/lostfrogs
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Notes for Editors
Conservation International (CI) - Building upon a strong
foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers
societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global
biodiversity for the well-being of humanity. With headquarters in Washington,
DC, CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents. For more information,
IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG) - The ASG of the
International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) strives to conserve
biological diversity by stimulating, developing, and executing practical
programs to conserve amphibians and their habitats around the world. This is
achieved by supporting a global web of partners to develop funding, capacity and
technology transfer to achieve shared, strategic amphibian conservation goals.
For more information, visit: www.amphibians.org