Scientists discover a relict population of bizarre toads in rapidly disappearing cloud forests of northwest Ecuador

QUITO, ECUADOR – A team of U.S. and Ecuadorian scientists working in the remote cloud forests of northwest Ecuador with the international non-profit The Biodiversity Group have rediscovered a population of the once thought extinct Tandayapa Andean Toad (Andinophryne olallai). The rediscovery, reported in an article published in the open-access journal Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, marks the first time the species has been seen in 43 years and sheds light on the species natural history and conservation status for the first time. The study is authored by scientists from The Biodiversity Group, Museo de Zoología of Catholic University of Ecuador and the local community organization Manduriacu Cooperative.

The toad genus Andinophryne is made up of three barely-studied and endangered species restricted to Andean cloud forests of western Ecuador and Colombia. Of the three species, the Tandayapa Andean Toad is the least known, with the only previous observation being the individual from the original species description from Tandayapa, Ecuador in 1970. Its scarcity earned the species a spot on the World’s “Lost Frogs” List by Conservation International. “This is a truly exciting and important rediscovery,” stated Dr. Robin Moore who launched the Global search for Lost Frogs, adding “In order to prioritize what and where to protect, it is imperative to know whether rare species such as this still exist. Hopefully this remarkable find will lead to some concrete conservation actions to ensure the species stays off the Lost Frogs List.”

Biologists Ryan L. Lynch of The Biodiversity Group and Sebastian Kohn of the Manduriacu Cooperative discovered the population during a rapid assessment of a remote moss-covered virgin forest scattered with pristine streams. They immediately recognized the importance of their findings due to the species similar appearance to Harlequin Frogs (genus Atelopus), which have suffered extreme population declines and extinctions across Latin America. The crisis in these frogs is thought to be due to a combination of habitat loss, climate change, and the spread of a deadly fungus.

The region surrounding Manduriacu has received attention by conservationists in recent years due to the expansion of hydroelectric, mining, and logging activities, all of which could threaten the well-being and survival of unknown numbers of rare and endangered species such the Tandayapa Andean Toad in the region. “The last time we visited the property we encountered a freshly clear-cut plot of land less than a kilometer from the rediscovery site, which is home to the only currently known population of the species” stated Lynch, adding “so land preservation in the region can’t come quick enough.”

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Santiago R. Ron from Museo de Zoología QCAZ, Universidad Católica del Ecuador, who oversees ongoing population studies of Andinophryne in Ecuador stated “The discovery of the Tandayapa Andean Toad in Manduriyacu demonstrates that the forests have unique properties and, presumably, unique communities”, adding “so the study and conservation of this area should be considered a priority for both the Ecuadorian government and the international conservation community.”. In addition to the Tandayapa Andean Toad, four threatened amphibian species have been recorded in Mandiruyacu: Epipedobates darwinwallacei, Pristimantis calcarulatus, Pristimantis muricatus and Pristimantis scolodiscus.

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