Monday, 3 October 2016

Rare frog's death at Atlanta Botanical Garden signals end of a species (Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog) – via Herp Digest

Updated: Sep 28, 2016 - 3:51 PM

ATLANTA - A rare tree frog – the last documented member of a species relatively new to science – has died at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
Ecnomiohyla rabborum.jpg 
The Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog, estimated to be about 12 years old, was found deceased in  its enclosure Monday by staff during their daily routine health inspection, said Brad Wilson, the Garden’s veterinarian and Amphibian Conservation Scientist.  Because the frog was the last known living member of its species in captivity, a standing protocol was in place for the recovery of genetic material that could be used to further study the species; therefore, an evaluation to determine an exact cause of death cannot be performed.

“We are extremely saddened by the loss of this frog and its species, which highlights the importance of amphibian research and conservation work worldwide,” said Mary Pat Matheson, the Garden’s President & CEO. “If we lose our amphibians, we lose a significant component in efforts to preserve biodiversity globally.”

Scientists estimate that one-third to one-half of amphibian species worldwide are threatened with extinction, many due to habitat loss and diseases such as chytridiomycosis, caused by an aquatic fungal pathogen.
More than a decade ago, the Garden, Zoo Atlanta and Southern Illinois University sent a team of scientists to Panama to collect live animals before the deadly chytrid disease struck the area. Among the frogs they brought back to Atlanta was a  species of tree frogs (Ecnomiohyla rabborum) new to science, the Rabbs’ frog. Identified in 2005 by Zoo Atlanta herpetology curator Joseph Mendelson,  it was later named for conservationists George and Mary Rabb.  In time, the disease did arrive in Panama, and many of the frogs disappeared.

In 2008 the Garden purchased and outfitted a climate-controlled facility known as the Frog Pod, designed to house the Rabb’s tree frog and other rare amphibians in complete isolation of each other.  It is in this facility that the Rabb’s frog had spent the last eight years of its 11-plus year lifespan.
The zoo lost its last remaining Rabbs frog, also a male, in 2012.
Highlighted in efforts to raise awareness for imperiled species, images of the frog appeared in projections on walls of the Vatican in Rome and the United Nations building in New York as part of an environmental activist project.

“Science had a very short window to learn about the species in the wild before this disease struck the only known locality for the frog and the species vanished,” said Matheson, adding that the Garden had successfully bred its male with a female but that the tadpoles did not survive.

The frog’s death serves as a stark reminder of the importance of the Garden’s conservation work in working with partner institutions to prevent species loss. This is done by surveying wild populations, monitoring restored populations, establishing safeguarding collections, and developing new propagation protocols for rare species.

The Garden’s dedication to these efforts remains the foundation of its living collections. Its newly established Center for Southeastern Conservation, for example, is leading efforts in formalizing a regional plant conservation network for the Southeast. Regionally, the Garden has worked with partners to increase the number of Georgia’s rare Carolina Gopher Frogs in the wild by collecting fertile eggs, raising them to small frogs, and releasing them to a protected habitat. These efforts are to prevent these species from dwindling to the last individual in captivity.

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