In 2008, a team of biologists in Bolivia brought into captivity a single male Sehuencas Water Frog (Telmatobius yuracare), Romeo, with the hopes of creating a conservation breeding program for the traditionally common species ahead of the kinds of population crashes they were seeing with other frogs. Ten years later and GWC partner the Bolivian Amphibian Initiative and other national and international researchers have not been able to locate a single other individual Sehuencas Water Frog—male or female—distinguishing the 2008 male as the last known living kind of his species. Romeo, who lives at the Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny of Cochabamba, may also represent the last best hope for his species.
The Sehuencas Water Frog is previously known from fewer than 10 locations, but was once found in abundance as tadpoles on the bottom of small streams of the montane cloud forest or the Bolivian Yungas forest. Researchers suspect that the combination of the deadly amphibian pathogen chytrid, the introduction of trout, habitat loss, pollution and climate change have resulted in precipitous declines in Telmatobius species in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, and are suspected in the decline of the Sehuencas Water Frog.
As the quality and extent of this species’ habitat continue to decline in the Bolivian Andes, GWC is supporting the Bolivian Amphibian Initiative in its search for the Sehuencas Water Frog and the protection of this species, its cousin species the Titicaca Water Frog, and other related Andean aquatic frog species.
Ultimately the Sehuencas Water Frog project aims to save this species from extinction, ideally through a conservation breeding program. In lieu of that option, the project may have to turn to emerging artificial reproductive technologies. Either way, the fate of the species depends on the individual currently in captivity and the passion of a few biologists.
The project’s goals include:
- Creating a conservation breeding program with multiple Sehuencas Water Frogs. Doing so would require the launch of several expeditions to habitat commonly associated with the species, including in more southern areas in the cloud forest that may be drier—a climate that may actually help inhibit the contraction of chytrid. In addition to eyes in the field and interviews with locals who may have seen the frog, the researchers will also collect water samples to search for traces of the species environmental DNA to confirm that the species has not gone extinct.
- Developing a biobank of sperm and other tissues from the single individual in captivity to be used in in vitro fertilization in the case that the team finds a female but the two frogs fail to breed.
- Understanding the specific drivers of the decline in aquatic frog species throughout the region to better protect those that are left in the wild. For example, the researchers are testing the salinity in the montane could forest to test the hypothesis that salinity can help protect amphibians from chytrid.
# of individuals left
streams of montane cloud forest
Chytrid, invasive species, climate change, habitat loss