Amphibian Capacity Building Venezuela: Taxonomy, Biology, Distribution and Ecology

Venezuela is recognized as a megadiverse country. With 363 species of amphibians —about 5% of the global total— it is among the top ten continental territories with the greatest diversity in this group of vertebrates. This richness of amphibians is very little known, especially the natural history, ecology, and distribution of endemic species, requiring important efforts for their study, assessment of extinction risk, and implementation of efficient conservation strategies. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 73 are threatened and one is extinct, representing 20% of the amphibian fauna of the country.

One of the biggest challenges that we face in Venezuela is the lack of technical human resources for amphibian research and conservation. To address this, a multidisciplinary team of seven professionals from academia, civil society and governmental agencies, joined their expertise to organize the first theoretical-practical course in the country entitled “Herpetology I: taxonomy, ecology and biogeography of Amphibians,” carried out between 15 and 22 October, 2015. This eight-day intensive training spanned a wide range of topics: origin and evolution, general characteristics (osteological, morphological and ecological traits, including vocalizations), diversity and distribution, field techniques, global and national threats, and conservation. Additionally, the course examined the process for obtaining national research permits, and discussed the development of funding proposals. Students also acquired practical skills on amphibian identification, data collection, GPS use, and basic inventory and monitoring techniques, during a three-day field trip to the Ecological Reserve La Guáquira (http://www.guaquira.net/) in the central portion of Venezuela’s northern coastal range.

In this first edition of the course 15 participants were admitted, out of 54 applicants. Students came from research centers and national universities, some were independent investigators, and others from environmental and national parks government agencies. We expect that the information and skills obtained will impact their future work, especially by learning about the threats and pressures on Venezuelan amphibians, but also as multipliers of this information and of the urgent need to join efforts for amphibian conservation.

The course had formal academic credits from the Center of Advanced Studies at the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Investigation (IVIC), and received support from IVIC, Guáquira Foundation, Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV), La Salle Foundation (Museo de Historia Natural La Salle), and the Venezuelan Ministry for Ecosocialism and Water (MINEA). Funds were provided by a joint Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG), Amphibian Survival Alliance (ASA) seed grant to the project “Amphibian Capacity Building Venezuela: Taxonomy, Biology, Distribution and Ecology,” with generous financing from Global Wildlife Conservation.

Five students were awarded modest fellowships to continue with a three-month training in amphibian red-listing. During the first month, they will be asked to take the on-line course on IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria, and pass the final exam with a score of 90% or more (https://www.conservationtraining.org/mod/page/view.php?id=3756). Those that succeed will move on to the second phase where they will update the assessments of Venezuelan endemics in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Their task will be to review the recent literature and assure that species accounts reflect current knowledge. They will also assure that distribution maps and red list categories are accurate and up to date. Their results should be available by the end of March, 2016.

Given the success of this first edition of the course, and the need to increase capacity human resources, we plan to offer it priodically. Risk assessment of Venezuela’s diverse amphibian fauna, and the implementation of efficient strategies for their conservation, need many more human and financial resources than are currently available. Little by little, we aim to reduce this gap.

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Team Members

  • J. Celsa Señaris (Laboratorio de Ecología y Genética de Poblaciones, IVIC)
  • Margarita Lampo (Laboratorio de Ecología y Genética de Poblaciones, IVIC)
  • Jon Paul Rodríguez (Laboratorio de Biología de Organismos, IVIC)
  • Dinora Sánchez (Unidad de Diversidad Biológica, IVIC)
  • Haidy Rojas (Unidad de Diversidad Biológica, IVIC)
  • Zaida Tárano (Instituto de Biología Experimental, UCV)
  • Israel Cañizales (Instituto de Zoología y Ecología Tropical, UCV, and Museo de Historia Natural La Salle of the Fundación La Salle)
  • Salvador Boher (Fundación Instituto Botánico de Venezuela Dr. Tobías Laser, UCV)
  • Carliz Díaz (Dirección General de Diversidad Biológica, Minea)

Partner Organizations

  • Center of Advanced Studies at the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Investigation (IVIC)
  • Guáquira Foundation
  • Universidad Central de Venezuela
  • La Salle Foundation (Museo de Historia Natural La Salle)
  • Venezuelan Ministry for Ecosocialism and Water (MINEA)

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