Unlike its more common cousin the Red-eyed Tree Frog (Agalychnis moreletii) which graces the front of David Attenborough’s ‘Life on Earth’, the Black-eyed Tree Frog enjoys no international fame and is, sadly, Critically Endangered. Having declined drastically across its former range in southern Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador the species appears to be on a gradual slide to extinction. The species population was projected to decline with more than 80% over the next ten years. Habitat degradation is certainly a major cause for this but chytrid fungus is also playing a part.
Chester Zoo maintains and breeds an ex-situ population of this fragile amphibian and in collaboration with the University of Manchester is studying the importance of dietary carotenes (the natural chemicals which make carrots orange and flamingos pink) and ultraviolet light on the health and reproductive success of these frogs. These studies will contribute to improving the success of ex-situ conservation for this and many other threatened frogs.
Another aspect of this project is a monitoring programme across the species range to determine the current distribution, investigate the genetic relationships between populations and assess the prevalence of chytrid fungus. This data will place us and our collaborative partners in a better position to plan a long-term conservation strategy for the species. This will also allow us to develop standard protocols to monitor amphibian species and train park rangers in amphibian monitoring techniques.
We are also developing a species / habitat integrity assessment to indicate the key areas for the Black-eyed Tree Frog in the country, to estimate the habitat characteristics at the locations, the levels of contamination and spread of the chytrid fungus, and to conduct GIS analysis on habitat quantity, quality and landownership.
We hope to generate sufficient amount of data needed to evaluate the current status of the species and to identify the key sites for the species conservation. Moreover, the local communities will be involved in the species monitoring and conservation to ensure the public support and the long-term success of the programme.