New colorful rainforest frog named after Prince Charles

As Mongabay reported this month, two new species of colorful rainforest frogs have been discovered in Ecuador, one of which is named after Prince Charles in honor of his conservation efforts.

Researchers described the two new species as part of an article published in Zootaxa recently that focused on the molecular phylogenetics of the Hyloscirtus larinopygion group, a group of Neotropical Andean stream-breeding frogs. In this group there are now 32 known species (with the discovery of the very first species occurring as recently as 40 years ago) and in the last decade four new species have been found. This again testifies of the riches of nature that still remain largely hidden to us.

Hyloscirtus princecharlesi. Photo by Luis A. Coloma.

Not much is known of most species of this group and it is no wonder that they have been discovered only very recently. They are found in cascading montane streams that are hard to access and moreover they are restricted to specific elevational ranges. Their elusive nature combined with their nocturnal and apparently seasonal activity adds to the mystery surrounding these animals. This means that basic knowledge of their natural history, as reproductive mode and behaviors, still has to be studied.  Interestingly, they seem to share the same habitat and natural history with species that have undergone mass extinctions, for instance species of the genus of Atelopus.  Those have been struck quite hard by a combination of climate change and the chytrid fungus and this might mean that these same agents of decline are threatening the group of Hyloscritus larinopygion as well. Belonging to this group are some species that are widely considered to be amongst the most beautiful frog species known to us. These two new species seem to fit into this criterion as well.

H. criptico Photo by Luis A. Coloma.

The first new species to be mentioned is Hyloscirtus criptico, of which the second part of the name refers to it being a cryptic species, having been confused with other species until the current study distinguished it from the rest through molecular phylogenetics. H. criptico was discovered in three localities in cascading streams in Montane Cloud Forest in the Cordillera Occidental de los Andes in Ecuador at elevations ranging from around 2200-2800 meters. The area of distribution measures approximately 1500 km2. It differs from other species partly because of its unique color patters, having small orange flecks and stippling. Immediately after its discovery it has been classified as an endangered species, because its population is suspected to reduce over 50% in the coming 10 years, due to their localities being modified by human activities and affected by habitat destruction. I will come back to the specific threats in the next paragraph in which I will talk about the discovery of Hyloscirtus princecharlesi, another new species that is living in one locality, Reserva Las Gralarias, in microsympatry with H. criptico.

H. princecharlesi. Photo by Luis A. Coloma.

Hyloscirtus princecharlesi was named in honor of the Prince of Wales for his work in preserving tropical forests, including his efforts to mobilize political and financial support for a program to compensate developing countries for conserving their rainforests. I am quite sure the Prince of Wales will be pleased with his name assigned to this creature, because it is a very beautifully colored frog indeed. This species was discovered in 2008 by scientist Dr. Luis A. Coloma in 2008 amongst specimens collected for a museum. In 2009 he collected specimens in the wild at Reserva Las Gralarias, a private nature reserve in Ecuador;  where H. criptico was found as well.  The two newly discovered species share the same habitat, upland streams in Montane Cloud Forest, with H. princecharlesi until now solely found in the Northwestern part of Ecuador in the Cordillera de Toiscán (in the Cordillera Occidental) at an elevation of around 2700-2800 meters.

Just as H. criptico this species is considered endangered, because its population is suspected to reduce over 50% in the coming 10 years. This is based on the habitat being modified by human activities; those activities include logging, burning, unregulated use of land for agriculture, cattle raising, pesticide use and invasive trout in the streams. With the species only found in one locality this means that the entire population is under threat. And as if all these threats weren’t enough, it is likely that both H. princecharlesi and H. criptico will suffer as well from the effects of climate change and emerging pathogens as Pounds et al. (2006) have described for other Andean species. Therefore the authors call for immediate action to protect these species and take integrative conservation measures. The first one has been implemented: two juvenile H. princecharlesi  are now being raised in captivity as part of the Amphibian Ark project in the hope they will breed and eventually boost populations in the wild.

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