New action plan developed for conservation of Darwin's frogs
17 July 2020 — A paper published in Oryx, The International Journal of Conservation, outlines the development of a multi-participatory binational conservation strategy for Darwin’s frogs (Rhinoderma darwinii and Rhinoderma rufum), an initiative that was led by the IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG). These two frog species, found in the temperate forests of Chile and Argentina, display an unusual behaviour not known in any other amphibian - the adult male frogs take the eggs into their vocal sac, where they grow, protected, into tadpoles and young froglets.
Photo: Claudio Azat, Universidad Andres Bello, Chile
Photo: Claudio Azat, Universidad Andres Bello, Chile
Photo: IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group
However, both species are threatened; the southern Darwin’s frog (Rhinoderma darwinii) is listed as Endangered on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, while the northern Darwin’s frog (Rhinoderma rufum) is listed as Critically Endangered – Possibly Extinct in the Wild –, having not been recorded since 1981 despite intensive surveys within the species’ range.
Concern for the future of these species prompted the development of the conservation strategy.
"Many people, and much effort and money are dedicated to species conservation worldwide. However, coordinating existing work and planning future actions under a species conservation strategy, is one of the most effective ways to halt species extinctions" said Claudio Azat, lead author of the study, Co-chair of the IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group for Chile and Associate professor at Universidad Andrés Bello, Chile.
The bulk of the planning process was undertaken at the Huilo-Huilo reserve, where a range of stakeholders representing varied interests, including representatives from local and international NGOs, zoos, academic institutions, government and private industry, gathered to review the species’ status, undertake a threat analysis, and develop conservation priorities.
Ariadne Angulo, Co-chair of the IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group, who co-facilitated the strategy development workshop, said “It is inspiring to witness different sectors joining forces to support the conservation of Darwin’s Frogs. By working together across political boundaries and under one umbrella approach, range state countries and members of the international conservation community have an opportunity to make a substantial difference to the conservation of Darwin’s Frogs and their habitats”.
As part of the conservation planning process, workshop participants developed the following Vision: Darwin frogs, unique in the world for their reproductive peculiarity, are conserved and valued as an emblem for the protection of the native forests of southern Chile and Argentina.
"This conservation strategy is one of the few examples of a frog being used as a flagship for the conservation of an entire habitat, the temperate forests of Chile and Argentina" said Claudio Azat
A threat analysis carried out as part of the strategy development identified habitat loss, infectious disease, and climate change as the major threats to the survival of Darwin’s frogs. Actions to mitigate the effects of these threats were developed during the workshop, which included both in-situ and ex-situ management activities.
“The National Zoo of Chile is continuing its work as a reference centre for the captive breeding of Rhinoderma darwinii, by committing to undertake some of the actions developed under the Rhinoderma Strategy” said Guillermo Cubillos, Head of the Conservation and Research Unit, National Zoo of Chile. “These include the development of captive husbandry protocols, and improving communication and collaboration between the different breeding centres to expand the genetic representation of the captive population of this species.”
This conservation strategy promotes collaboration and coordination of all conservation efforts towards a common goal; all parties working together increases the chances of succeeding in conserving these unusual frog species.
“The conservation of Darwin’s frogs is relevant from an evolutionary, ecological and cultural point of view” said Andrés Valenzuela Sánchez, president of the local-based organization ONG Ranita de Darwin. “Darwin’s frogs are special not only for their unique reproductive behaviour, but because they are evolutionarily distinct from most other amphibians. Second, these frogs used to be one of the most common and abundant amphibians in the Southern South American temperate forest and may play a critical trophic role in this threatened ecosystem. Last but not least, Darwin’s frogs appear in the Pitrén complex pottery (with vessels dating to 1200-2000 years BP) and remain as an important component of our present-day biocultural heritage”.
The full Darwin’s frogs conservation strategy, and a list of the many organisations that contributed to the development of this strategy, can be found here: https://www.estrategiarhinoderma.org/
The paper can be downloaded from: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0030605319001236
Notes to editors
The Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG) is part of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It provides the scientific foundation to inform effective amphibian conservation action around the world. Under the umbrella of the ASG, the Amphibian Red List Authority oversees the assessments of all amphibians on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. ASG, together with the Amphibian Survival Alliance (ASA) and Amphibian Ark, share a common vision of “Amphibians thriving in nature”. Learn more at https://www.iucn-amphibians.org/.
Universidad Andres Bello is an accredited University in Chile. Its PhD in Conservation Medicine is a leading graduate program in Latin America in wildlife conservation and ecosystem health. For more information, visit: https://www.unab.cl/en/.
ONG Ranita de Darwin is the first Chilean non-profit organization working on the conservation, research and outreach of Chilean amphibians and their habitats, with focus on Darwin's frogs. For more information, visit www.ranitadedarwin.org.
The Chilean National Zoo is a government institution whose mission is based on the historical commitment to the conservation and rehabilitation of threatened wildlife. Its fundamental pillars are conservation education and research.
Additional Partner Organisations
ZSL (Zoological Society of London) is an international conservation charity working to create a world where wildlife thrives. From investigating the health threats facing animals to helping people and wildlife live alongside each other, ZSL is committed to bringing wildlife back from the brink of extinction. Our work is realised through our ground-breaking science, our field conservation around the world and engaging millions of people through our two zoos, ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. For more information, visit www.zsl.org.