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Colombia: A Biodiversity Hot Spot

04/06/2015

Colombia ranks behind only Brazil in amphibian, bird and mammal diversity in the Americas; unfortunately, it is also one of the South American countries with the highest rate of environmental issues, with big problems due to rampant deforestation, pollution, crop fumigation and mining contamination. 

Colombia is also one of the many places where several amphibian species have disappeared abruptly from pristine habitat from unknown causes, most likely due to the amphibian chytrid fungus that affects many species.

However, some very good things are happening there for amphibian conservation. Last December, the colonial city of Cartagena hosted the 10th Congress of Latin American Herpetology, where more than 1,500 students, researchers and conservationist from all over the Americas and Europe met to discuss topics of interest for the study and conservation of amphibians and reptiles. Philadelphia Zoo was there, and we were very active at the congress, hosting a symposium on the Caribbean Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, where we could tie in our work in Haiti and the Dominican Republic with what the rest of the community is doing on the Caribbean Islands and the Caribbean regions of Central and South America.
 

Opening for the 10th Congress of Latin American Herpetology in Cartagena, Colombia.
 
At the symposium, we had 17 participants from seven countries, including several from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago. The symposium provided a platform within the congress where we could not only give our presentations but also talk about the common threats and possible solutions for the delicate herpetofauna of the Caribbean region.
 
Also while at the congress, our Colombian student Alejandra Maria Salazar Guzman gave her thesis talk and presented the discovery of two lowland tropical bullfrogs species (genus Adenomera). Alejandra discovered these species in 2014 while gathering data for her work in the Colombian Amazon. For her thesis, Alejandra was looking at the interaction among different frog species on reconstructed wetlands and how amphibians are able to colonize reconstructed habitat. Her work was done under the supervision of our colleague Jonh Jairo Mueses Cisneros and myself. Her work took place at the Centro Experimental Amazónico (CEA) – Mocoa, where Jonh and I gave a course on amphibian ecology and conservation in 2012, thanks to a donation to our Zoo from the Faris Family
 

Colombian student Alejandra Maria Salazar Guzman presents her research where she was able to discover two new species of frogs in Colombia.

 

Adenomera sp. nov., one of the newly discovered frogs in the amazon forests of Colombia.
 
As part of our visit to Colombia last year, we went out to the Andean páramo and Andean cloud forests in the south part of the country to look for new species of frogs that have yet to be described by science. We also visited the Laguna de la Cocha, a site where you can find the Faris frog (Pristimantis farisorum) to assess the quality of its habitat, along with that of several other endangered Andean species. The Faris frog is threatened because of the level of destruction on the limited habitat that it has left. One large population is found within a protected area, but that site receives a lot of tourists and is also less than 10 square kilometers in size. The Faris frog, described by Mr. Mueses Cisneros in 2013, honors the Faris family as a show of gratitude to the enormous contributions that they provide to the Zoo and to our amphibian conservation projects.
 

The Faris frog (Pristimantis farisorum) is endemic to a very small strip of cloud forest found on Southern Colombia. The frog inhabits very humid environments and areas with bromeliads and dense forest cover. It is affected mostly by habitat destruction within its range.
 

The habitat of the Faris frog is also home to a suite of new species of amphibians that have not been described by scientists yet. We know so little about these frogs that we are unable to determine their conservation status. However, since their range seems to be very restricted and the only known place where they are found is under threat, it is possible that these are also threatened with extinction.