British researchers are in Costa Rica looking for sunbathing tree frogs.
Poking around in the damp brush of the Monteverde cloud forest in the TilaránMountains, playing a frog call on a CD player, the scientists this week managed to find a male Duellmanohyla uranochroa, or red-eyed stream frog.
“This is one of the most critically endangered frogs in the world,” said lead researcher Andrew Gray to a BBC news crew The researchers, from the University of Manchester and the Chester Zoological Society, are looking into whether increased cloud cover caused by climate change is threatening the tree frogs.
The scientists believe the tiny amphibians are able to kill off a deadly fungus by lounging under the sun. Most other species of frogs avoid the sun.
“In places like Monteverde, the temperature has changed drastically over the last couple of years. Lowlands are getting warmer, and so the clouds are thicker in the highlands,” Gray said in a phone interview before heading to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, in the mountains northwest of San José.
With increased cloud cover, he explained, “The frogs can’t bask. They’re cold-blooded and need to heat up and also use sunlight to clear themselves of things like these funguses that live at damp, low temperatures.”
U.S. biologist Alan Pounds, a resident scientist at Monteverde, headed up a study published in January 2006 in the scientific journal Nature that linked climate change to a deadly fungus plaguing amphibians. That fungus is believed to have extinguished the golden toad, a species that was unique to Costa Rica.
According to earlier research by Pounds, 20 of 50 species of frogs and toads in a 30-square-kilometer study area around Monteverde had disappeared by 1999. Gray said he is hoping to capture a pair of the red-eyed tree frog, as well as another species, Isthmohyla rivularis, that is so rare it has no common name and is found only in Monteverde.
Gray, who is the curator of herpetology at the ManchesterMuseum, said he plans to take the frogs back to Europe for breeding before returning them to the wilds in Costa Rica.
But while much of the excitement has been focused on finding the frogs, Gray said the team is also focused on training researchers here with the Monteverde Conservation League and the TropicalScienceCenter, which runs the Monteverde reserve.
The British team planned to set up a research station at the edge of the preserve, so much of the work they do on the other side of the Atlantic can be carried out here. Gray said his university is also considering bringing some Costa Rican researchers back to England for training.
“The most important thing is that we protect and support these Costa Rican frogs and help facilitate by working with the Costa Rican people,” he said. “It’s about working together to conserve these species.”