Thursday, May 29, 2014

Common Asian toad invasive in Madagascar

Common Indian Toad. Duttaphrynus melanostictus. Front view. 
Photograph by L. Shyamal
The unique wildlife of Madagascar is facing an invasion of toxic toads that could devastate the island’s native species. Snakes feeding on the toads are especially at risk of poisoning, as are a host of other animals unique to the island — such as lemurs and endemic birds — and the species could cause harm to humans as well.

In a letter to Nature published today, 11 researchers warn that Asian common toads (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) were observed near Toamasina, the African country’s largest seaport, in March. It is suspected that the amphibians arrived from Asia in shipping containers, and are now taking advantage of what the writers describe as “ideal resources and climate” to establish themselves.

“Time is short, so we are issuing an urgent call to the conservation community and governments to prevent an ecological disaster,” say Jonathan Kolby, a wildlife-health researcher at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, and his colleagues.

The discovery of the invasive amphibians recalls the Australian plague of cane toads (Rhinella marina). These animals, relatives of the Asian common toad, were deliberately introduced to Australia in 1935; they proceeded to devastate native animal populations and have spread across much of the country, defying attempts to eradicate them.

Kolby and his colleagues warn that something similar could now happen in Madagascar.

The toads are already reported to have been deadly to snakes, including the ground boa (Acrantophis spp.), which is found nowhere else, Kolby tells Nature. Drawing parallels with the cane-toad situation, he warns that more than 50 species of endemic snake could be threatened, because they are likely to eat the toxic toads. Iconic Madagascan species such as the cat-like fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox), lemurs and endemic birds are also in jeopardy. And the toads could spread diseases to other amphibians and even contaminate drinking water and transmit parasites to humans.

The species is not yet widespread in Madagascar, but it has been found a mere 25 kilometers away from the important Betampona nature reserve, and a short distance further from other internationally important biodiversity hotspots. It is unclear how fast it can travel, but cane toads have been clocked expanding their range at 50 kilometers per year.

The potential tragedy is not restricted to Madagascar. “There is now a high dispersal risk of these toads spreading from Madagascar to other Indian Ocean islands such as the Mascarene Islands, Comoros and Seychelles,” says Kolby.

Toads are already being collected and removed, he says, and the Madagasikara Voakajy, a non-governmental organization in Antananarivo devoted to biodiversity, is tracking the spread of the amphibians. The toads should be hunted, their spawn should be destroyed and ponds should be drained to stop their breeding, says Kolby. “We are still within the early stages of population growth,” he says. An eradication program should be developed swiftly, “while populations are still relatively small and manageable”.

Mark Hoddle, director of the Center for Invasive Species Research at the University of California, Riverside, notes that to be considered invasive, a non-native species must have established a reproductive population that spreads and causes environmental and economic damage. On this basis it may be too early to declare the Asian toad in Madagascar a problem species, he says, but there are “very good reasons to be concerned”.

Kolby, J. E. 2014. Ecology: Stop Madagascar's toad invasion now Nature 509. doi:10.1038/509563a

A new blunt-snouted dyrosaurid from the time of Titanoboa

An ancient crocodilian has been named after the fictional Balrog creature in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series. The ancient 16-foot, 900-pound blunt-snouted dyrosaurid was given the name, Anthracosuchus balrogus, in a new study from The University of Florida. The huge crocodilian was featured in a 2012 Smithsonian Channel documentary about Titanoboa, a massive 58-foot python that also lived around 60 million years ago. Anthracosuchus balrogus was unearthed from the same layer of rock as Titanoboa in the Cerrejon coal mine of northern Colombia. Smithsonian has the full Titanoboa documentary available on YouTube. 

Alex Hastings, a postdoctoral researcher at Martin Luther Universitat Halle-Wittenberg and former graduate student at the Florida Museum of Natural History and UF's department of geological sciences, says in a statement, "It quickly became clear that the four fossil specimens were unlike any dyrosaur species ever found. Everyone thinks that crocodiles are living fossils that have remained virtually unchanged for the last 250 million years. But what we're finding in the fossil record tells a very different story."

Jonathan Bloch, co-author and Florida Museum associate curator of vertebrate paleontology, says crocodyliforms that lived in the Cerrejon ecosystem during the Paleocene, when temperatures were higher than today, grew to enormous sizes. He says A. balrogus lived in close proximity to Titanoboa.

Bloch says, "Every once in a while, there was likely an encounter between Anthracosuchus and Titanoboa. Titanoboa was the largest predator around and would have tried to eat anything it could get its mouth on."
A giant turtle, Carbonemys cofrinii, also lived during the time of Titanoboa and A. balrogus.

Hastings, A. K., Bloch, J. I., & Jaramillo, C. A. (2014). A new blunt-snouted dyrosaurid, Anthracosuchus balrogus gen. et sp. nov. (Crocodylomorpha, Mesoeucro
codylia), from the Palaeocene of Colombia. Historical Biology, (ahead-of-print), 1-23.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Intranasal neostigmine reduces mortality in a mouse model of Naja naja envenomtion

Snakebite is one of the most neglected of all tropical diseases, with nearly 5 million people bitten by snakes each year and fatalities globally up to 30 times higher than that of land mines and comparable to AIDS in some developing countries. It has been estimated that more than 75 percent of snakebite victims who die do so before they ever reach the hospital so a new approach may dramatically reduce the number of global snakebite fatalities, currently estimated to be as high as 94,000 per year. 
Such a fast, accessible, and easy-to-administer treatment for venomous snakebite may be coming. Not soon, the regulatory process allows no shortcuts and clinical trials are expensive, but it is in the works. 
Researchers have reported on a pilot study geared toward developing a universal antidote for snakebite. Last summer, the team tested the effectiveness of a nasally administered antiparalytic drug on mice injected with high doses of Indian cobra (Naja naja) venom. Mice injected with otherwise fatal doses of venom outlived and in many cases survived after being treated with the antiparalytic agent, neostigmine.
Although the mice in this experiment were each treated only once to maintain a consistent protocol, a nasally administered antidote could, in practice, be administered multiple times without needles. Inhibitors of other types of venom could be combined with those working against paralysis to form a complete antidote. With many combinations for potential testing, the team is now working intensively with chemist and snake venom expert, Dr. Sakthivel Vaiyapuri of Reading University in the United Kingdom, a co-author on the report. 

Separate groups of mice were given varying doses of venom (all above lethal limits) and then treated with the antiparalytic treatment at two different time intervals: within 1-2 minutes after envenomation and 10 minutes after envenomation. 10 of 15 mice given the lowest dose of venom, followed by the treatment within 10 minutes, survived and later exhibited completely normal behavior, while 100 percent of control mice died. In groups given higher doses of cobra venom (2 to 5 times the lethal dose) all mice succumbed, but those treated with a single dose of neostigmine survived significantly longer than the controls. 
"Antivenom is necessary, but not sufficient to manage this problem. Its limitations are fairly well known at this point and we need a better bridge to survival. It's ironic that virtually every medical organization and practitioner wears the snake symbol, yet we have no real effective treatments for the people getting bitten," says Dr. Matthew Lewin of the California Academy of Sciences. "Ninety-eight percent of snakebite victims live in poverty, which is perhaps why funding and innovation are lacking. The bottom line is that no one should die from a snake bite in the twenty-first century, and we're optimistic about this promising step."
The team initially demonstrated the potential of this novel snakebite treatment during an experiment conducted in April of 2013 at the University of California, San Francisco. In that experiment, a healthy human volunteer was paralyzed, while awake, using a toxin that mimics the effects of the venom of cobras and other snakes that disable their victims by paralysis. The experimental paralysis progressed from eye muscle weakness to respiratory distress in the same order typically seen in snakebite victims. The team then administered the nasal spray and within 20 minutes the patient had recovered. The results of that experiment were published in the medical journal Clinical Case Reports.
In late June of 2013, Samuel, Dr. C. Soundara Raj, and colleagues at TCR Multispeciality Hospital in Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu, India accelerated the recovery of a snakebite victim on life support using this method. After receiving 30 vials of antivenom, the standard treatment for venomous snakebites, the female patient remained weak and suffered from facial paralysis. Within 30 minutes of treatment with the antiparalytic nasal spray, the patient's facial paralysis was reversed. Two weeks after being treated, the patient reported having returned to her daily activities. 
Matthew R. Lewin, Stephen P. Samuel, David S. Wexler, Philip Bickler, Sakthivel Vaiyapuri, and Brett D. Mensh 2014.  Early treatment with intranasal neostigmine Reduces Mortality in a Mouse Model of Naja naja (Indian Cobra) Envenomation,” Journal of Tropical Medicine, vol. 2014, Article ID 131835, 6 pages, 2014. doi:10.1155/2014/131835

A new mode of reproduction in a new frog

Nyctibatrachus kumbara 
Forty different modes of reproduction have been described in frogs, now a 41st mode has been described. The newly described kumbara night frog, Nyctibatrachus kumbara, inhabits stream and river beds traversing the forests of the southern India’s Western Ghats is the only known amphibian to coat its eggs in mud.

Kotambylu Vasudeva Gururaja of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and colleagues, discovered the frog during expeditions which started in 2006. The new frog has only been found in swamp forests in the Karnataka region of the Western Ghats, where nutmeg trees form a dense canopy.

At dusk, male kumbara night frogs attract females with a distinctive "tok" call. If a female wishes to reproduce with him, the two stand on their hind legs, the female rotates into a handstand, and lays about five pigmented eggs on to a twig or some other plant structure.

"Kumbara" means "potter" in Kannada, a local language. "The male frog shows such finesse when it applies mud to the eggs," says Gururaja.

The male then moves toward the egg clutch, stands on his hind limbs, collects mud from the stream bed with its forelimbs and spreads it on the eggs. He repeats this about 15 times, covering all the eggs with mud.
This is the first time such behavior has been observed in amphibians. "I have never heard of or observed mud packing in any amphibian," says Sathyabhama Das Biju at the University of Delhi in India, who was not involved with the study.

There are some straightforward explanations. "Since the eggs are laid about six centimeters above the water, there is a chance they can go dry," says Gururaja. "The mud pack could be preventing that. It could also be a camouflage against egg predators like crabs, insects and snakes."

But more fundamentally, Gururaja thinks the frogs just need to be different from their neighbors. Two closely related species of Nyctibatrachus, Jog's night frog and Rao's dwarf wrinkled frog, live in the same area. Gururaja found that the three species differ in many ways; they are different sizes, make different calls, mate differently and care for their young differently.


GURURAJA, K. V., DINESH, K., PRITI, H., & RAVIKANTH, G. (2014). Mud-packing frog: A novel breeding behaviour and parental care in a stream dwelling new species of Nyctibatrachus (Amphibia, Anura, Nyctibatrachidae). Zootaxa,3796(1), 33-61.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Climate change: amphibians & latitude

The changing climate is impacting organisms worldwide. Perhaps the most obvious change is in the timing of events; Japanese cherries are blossoming earlier than they have for the last 1000 years, some migrating birds arrive at their summer grounds in the northern hemisphere several weeks earlier than they did only 50 years ago, and others lay two, not one, clutches of eggs per season. However, the directional trend towards earlier phenology conceals substantial variation among populations, species and higher. For example, great tit, Parsus major, and blue tit, Cyanistes caeruleus, populations in Western Europe show considerable variation in their phenological response to climate change, despite climate change itself being relatively uniform across this geographic range. Tree swallows, Tachycineta bicolour, in North America differ geographically in their response to local climate change, with western and more southern populations exhibiting a stronger response to climate change than eastern and northern populations. Finally, the phenological response of both pied flycatchers, Ficedula hypoleuca, and European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris, has been shown to differ between the two species and between geographical locations. Despite considerable evidence for differences in phenological response to global warming between species and regions, the causes of this variation remain poorly understood.
Although mostly studied in birds and plants, the taxon that shows the strongest average shift towards earlier breeding is amphibians. Amphibian populations have, on average, advanced their breeding date at least twice as much compared to other animal taxa for which comparable data exist. However, population changes in breeding phenology in amphibians are also surprisingly variable. For example, only 2 out of 7 studies of common toads report earlier breeding in more recent years, and a recent study of 10 amphibians found significant shifts in only 40% of species. The combination of large average responses and high heterogeneity among populations and species calls for studies that attempt to address the causes of this variation. This will enable better predictions for changes in breeding phenology across different species and across different scenarios of global warming. Population responses to novel environments in general, and global warming in particular, should depend on the species biology (e.g. which environmental cues trigger reproduction), the ecological conditions (e.g. to what extent.
Now, a new article in Ecography by Geoffrey M. While and Tobias Uller (2014) conducted a phylogenetically controlled meta-analysis of breeding phenology of frogs, toads and salamanders to examine the extent of variation in amphibian breeding phenology in response to global climate change. They show that there is strong geographic variation in response to global climate change, with species at higher latitudes exhibiting a more pronounced shift to earlier breeding than those at lower latitudes. The analyses suggest that this latitude effect is a result of both the increased temperature (but not precipitation) at higher latitudes as well as a greater responsiveness by northern populations of amphibians to this change in temperature. The authors suggest that these effects should reinforce any direct effect of increasing warming at higher latitudes on breeding phenology. In contrast, they found very little contribution from other location factors or species traits. There was no evidence for a phylogenetic signal on advancing breeding phenology or responsiveness to temperature, suggesting that the amphibians that have been studied to date respond similarly to global warming.


Monday, May 19, 2014

The phylogeny of softshell turtles and the giant Shanghai softshell turtle, Rafetus swinhoei

The softshell turtles of the family Trionychidae have highly derived morphology evolved to adapt the turtles to an almost entirely aquatic environment. These adaptations include a smooth leathery skin covering with a reduced bony shell, a flattened body shape, and heavily webbed toes. Thirty-one species in 13 genera are distributed in Africa, Asia (including New Guinea), the Mediterranean, and North America. The fossil record supports the family’s former presence in Australia, Europe, and South America. Trionychid phylogenetic relationships are a fairly well resolved and robust molecular phylogeny of trionychids has been established. And, species boundaries within a number of widely distributed species or species complexes have been clarified. However, to date the taxonomic status of the critically endangered Shanghai softshell turtle, Rafetus swinhoei, is still a matter of debate. Ranked as one of the 100 most endangered species (only four live individuals of this species are known, two in Vietnam and two in China). Historically, this species had a large distribution range, including the Yellow River, Yangtze River, and their tributaries in China and the Red River system, as well as Ma River and associated wetlands in Vietnam. Previous molecular and morphological comparisons suggested that this is a single species but more recent work produced radically different results, and described populations in Vietnam as a new species, R. vietnamensis. A subsequent study shed doubt on this view by highlighting sources of potential errors. Despite this, it is likely that populations from Vietnam and China constitute independent evolutionary lineages given the distance and river systems separating them.

To test this hypothesis, Minh Le and colleagues analyzed data from two mitochondrial loci (cytochrome b and ND4) and one nuclear intron (R35) for all trionychid turtle species, except Pelochelys signifera, and for all known populations of Rafetus swinhoei in Vietnam and one from China. Phylogenetic analyses using three methods (maximum parsimony, maximum likelihood, and Bayesian inference) produce a well resolved and strongly supported phylogeny. The results the time-calibration and biogeographic optimization analyses show trionychid dispersed out of Asia between 45 and 49 million years ago in the Eocene. Interestingly, the accelerated rates of diversification and dispersal within the family correspond surprisingly well to global warming periods between the mid Paleocene and the early Oligocene and from the end of the Oligocene to the mid Miocene. The study also indicates that there is no significant genetic divergence among monophyletic populations of Rafetus swinhoei, and that previous taxonomic revision of this species is unwarranted.


Le, M., Duong, H. T., Dinh, L. D., Nguyen, T. Q., Pritchard, P. C., & McCormack, T. (2014). A phylogeny of softshell turtles (Testudines: Trionychidae) with reference to the taxonomic status of the critically endangered, giant softshell turtle, Rafetus swinhoei. Organisms Diversity & Evolution, 1-15.

A new horned lizard from Guerrero, Mexico

Phrynosoma sherbrookei. Photographer unknown
The journal Herpetological reports a new species of horned lizard in the genus Phrynosoma from southwest México. Body size, tail length, and scale texture and layout distinguish the new species, Phrynosoma sherbrookei. The new species is named after Wade Sherbrook, who has studied horned lizard behavior, ecology and systematics for many years.

There are 16 recognized horned lizard species, ranging from Canada to Guatemala. Only four species have been found south of México's trans-volcanic belt. These distinctive reptiles have a dorsum covered with spiny scales and bony horns on their heads. To avoid predators, they rely on camouflage and an ability to puff out their body. Some species squirt blood by rupturing capillaries surrounding their eyes when attacked by a canid predator. The blood contains formic acid, sequestered by the lizards from the ants they feed on. They are adapt to dry habitats, collecting rainwater by using their dorsal surface to channel water over their back and into their mouth. Some species are live bearing while other populations of the same species lay eggs.

In Guerrero, México, 14 lizards from the Sierra Madre del Sur were found to be an unrecognized species. Adrián Nieto-Montes de Oca and colleagues analyzed DNA from these specimens to support their proposal of a new species. They also generated a phylogenetic tree depicting the evolution of the horned lizards.

The new species can be distinguished from all other Phrynosoma by the possession of a unique combination of morphological characteristics. The molecular genetic data include three fragments of the mitochondrial genome and six nuclear genes (2419 and 3909 base pairs in total, respectively) for 31 samples belonging to the 16 previously recognized species of Phrynosoma and the new species

Phrynosoma sherbrookei is strongly supported in maximum likelihood analyses of both the concatenated mitochondrial and nuclear data as a monophyletic, distinct evolutionary lineage sister to, and moderately divergent from, P. taurus, and highly divergent from all of the other species of Phrynosoma. A Bayesian species tree analysis also strongly supports the monophyly of the Brevicauda clade, and a sister relationship between P. taurus and the new species.

Phrynosoma sherbrookei seems to live in a small area and may benefit from protection until researchers can learn more about the population.

Adrián Nieto-Montes de Oca, Diego Arenas-Moreno, Elizabeth Beltrán-Sánchez, and Adam D. Leaché (2014) A New Species of Horned Lizard (Genus Phrynosoma) from Guerrero, México, with an updated multilocus phylogeny. Herpetologica 70: 241-257.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Four recently described colubroid snakes

2014 has been predicted to be a big year for new species of reptiles. These four reticently described species support that claim.
Siphlophis ayauma sp. nov
 Siphlophis ayauma sp. nov. was recently described by Sheehy and colleagues (2014) from the Amazonian slopes of the Ecuadorian Andes, in the provinces of Azuay, Tungurahua, and Zamora Chinchipe. This is the third species of Siphlophis known from Ecuador and the seventh species in the genus. Siphlophis ayauma has been found on the Amazon versant of the Andes Mountains of Ecuador from 1250 to 2200 m elevation in the Montane. Lower Montane, and upper Foothill Evergreen vegetation zones. Given its distribution, the species will very likely also be found in Peru. The female holotype was found active on forest floor vegetation during a rainy night.

Philodryas amaru sp. nov.
Philodryas amaru sp. nov. Zaher et al. (2014) is from the highlands of southern Ecuador The new species resembles Philodryas simonsii in color pattern but they differ in their  hemipenial morphology. The three other trans-Andean members of the genus (Philodryas simonsii, Philodryas chamissonis, and Philodryas tachymenoides), along with the new species, compose a probably monophyletic group that may be characterized by the presence of ungrooved postdiastemal teeth in the maxilla. Unlike most species of the genus Philodryas, the new species shows a restricted distribution, apparently restricted to a small region of high-altitude (3150–4450 m) grasslands in the southern Andes of Ecuador.

Opisthotropis durandi sp. nov.
Opisthotropis durandi sp. nov. Teyni et al. (2014) is based upon two specimens, collected in a karst formation of northern Louangphabang (or Luang Prabang) Province, North Laos. They differ from all other known Opisthotropis in morphology. It represents the first confirmed record of a species of Opisthotropis sensu stricto from Laos and it is the 108th snake species currently recorded from the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. This new aquatic snake was lying under a half-immersed rock at the bottom of a small waterfall in the course of a fast-running forest stream.  It is interesting to note that the local vernacular name of this snake is Ngou Koung or Ngou Kung, meaning “shrimp snake,” and shrimp were observed at the collection site, but its diet remains undocumented.

Rhabdophis guangdongensis sp. nov.
Rhabdophis guangdongensis sp. nov. Zhu et al (2014) was described from Guangdong Province, China. It is both genetically and morphological distinct, having a small body size; 20 maxillary teeth, with posterior enlargedn fangs that are not separated by diastemata and other traits. The description of this  species brings the number of described Rhabdophis to 21 and represents the tenth known Rhabdophis species in China.

Sheehy, C. M., Yánez-Muñoz, M. H., Valencia, J. H., & Smith, E. N. (2014). A New Species of Siphlophis (Serpentes: Dipsadidae: Xenodontinae) from the Eastern Andean Slopes of Ecuador. South American Journal of Herpetology, 9(1), 30-45.

Teyni, A., Lottier, A., David, P., Nguyen, T. Q., & Vogel, G. (2014). A new species of the genus Opisthotropis Günther, 1872 from northern Laos (Squamata: Natricidae). Zootaxa, 3774(2), 165-182.

Zaher, H., Arredondo, J. C., Valencia, J. H., Arbeláez, E., Rodrigues, M. T., & Altamirano-Benavides, M. (2014). A new Andean species of Philodryas (Dipsadidae, Xenodontinae) from Ecuador. Zootaxa, 3785(3), 469-480.

Zhu, G. X., Wang, Y. Y., Takeuchi, H., & Zhao, E. (2014). A new species of the genus Rhabdophis Fitzinger, 1843 (Squamata: Colubridae) from Guangdong Province, southern China. Zootaxa, 3765(5), 469-480.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

New Book: Snakes of the World: A Catalogue of Living and Extinct Species, is now available

Snakes of the World: A Catalogue of Living and Extinct Species. 2014. Van Wallach, Kenneth L. Williams, Jeff Boundy. CRC Press, Boca Rattan, FL. 1237 pp.

This volume  will be required reading for anyone seriously interested in snake systematics and diversity. It contains a checklist to all living and fossil snakes described between 1758 and 2012. These number 3,509 living and 274 extinct species allocated to 539 living and 112 extinct genera. Also included are 54 genera and 302 species that are dubious or invalid. Thus, book in recognizes 705 genera and 4,085 species.
The checklist is organized by genera with species alphabetically organized for ease of reference. The species accounts include: data on type specimens and type localities; a lists all subspecies, synonyms and proposed  names;  distribution of species by country and province, and geological time spans for fossil species; a complete summary of the systematic snake literature. It also provides a list of  references for each country. The literature cited  covers more than 200 pages.

In 2013 there were an additional 22 species of snakes described, and at least four new species have already been described in 2014. There have also been some major changes in higher level systematics within the past two years. Despite these updates, this is a indispensable volume for anyone working on snakes.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Amphibians, climate change & habitat loss

Cascades frogs, found only at high elevations in three states, will face a hard future
where trout dominate high mountain lakes and climate change dries up many of the shallower
waterways such amphibians have been using. Photo Credit: M Ryan/U of Washington
A warming climate, however, will dry up some of the places where amphibians and their young have found refuge. Researchers in the May 1 issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment write about this challenge and a novel combination of tools that could help land managers, biologists, fishing enthusiasts and other citizens weigh where amphibians are in the most need of help and guide plans for possible fish removals from selected lakes.

"Amphibians in the West's high-mountain areas find themselves in a vice, caught between climate-induced habitat loss and predation from introduced fish," said Maureen Ryan, a University of Washington postdoctoral researcher in environmental and forest sciences, a Simon Fraser University research associate and lead author of the paper.

Among the tools that could prove useful is a hydrologic model, currently used to project river flows, that can be applied to wetlands as a way to evaluate the effects of projected climate change. New remote-sensing techniques, using what's called object-based image analysis, allow managers to use existing aerial and satellite imagery to map wetlands in remote and previously unsurveyed regions.

Along with biological survey data these tools "can be used to identify regions where native wetland animals are most at risk of the combined effects of climate change and fish. In these regions, fish removal from strategic sites can be used to restore resilience to a landscape where inaction might lead to tipping points of species loss," writes Ryan and her co-authors Wendy Palen of Simon Fraser University, Michael Adams of the U.S. Geological Survey and Regina Rochefort of the North Cascades National Park.

The work was funded by the Department of the Interior's Northwest Climate Science Center, the David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship Program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Pacific Northwest Landscape Conservation Cooperative.

In some parts of the West, programs of fish removal are already in place. Jack Oelfke, a manager at North Cascades National Park in Washington state says he watched long-toed salamanders, northwestern salamanders and tailed frogs return to lakes that his crews cleared of introduced trout. Fish stocking was halted in the park in 2007 after the park and Washington state completed an extensive environmental impact statement. The park began trout removal at eight lakes in 2009.

When considering removing fish, Ryan said human uses such as fishing are a part of the discussion. For the North Cascades National Park, for example, several high-lakes fisheries groups were involved.
"People often ask me what we can do about amphibian declines," said co-author Adams. "Fish removal is something that we know will help, but is hard to do and not always popular, so we need to be smart about it. This project provides a tool that can help target fish removal to places where it will do the most good for amphibians."

In some places, if a lake is no longer artificially stocked with fish, the trout will naturally disappear. Non-native fish also can be removed using a variety of techniques including gill nets or piscicides like the organic compound rotenone, which is extracted from plants.

As glaciers receded at the end of the last ice age they left behind thousands of isolated high mountain lakes and ponds devoid of fish. The bodies of water range in size from many acres, large enough to sail a boat on is how Ryan describes them, to ones smaller than your living room.

For centuries frogs, salamanders and other aquatic species flourished in these high elevation habitats where food was plentiful and their eggs and young were relatively safe from predators. In the late 1800s things started to change when trout were brought to mountain lakes and ponds in the American West by settlers looking for recreational fishing opportunities. Stocking intensified after World War II with millions of fish being dropped from aircraft by agency wildlife managers. Today 95 percent of the large mountain lakes have trout.

At risk are species such as the Cascades frog. Found only at high elevations in Washington, Oregon and California, Cascades frogs can live for 20 or more years, can survive under 30 feet of snow and, during the mating season, the males make chuckling sounds.

"We hope newly developed wetland modeling tools can improve climate adaptation action plans so ecosystems can maintain their resilience in the face of a changing climate," Ryan said.

Maureen E Ryan, Wendy J Palen, Michael J Adams, and Regina M Rochefort 2014. Amphibians in the climate vice: loss and restoration of resilience of montane wetland ecosystems in the western US. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12: 232–240.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Human modified California kingsnakes now invasive species in the Canary Islands

The LA Times is carrying the following story. 

By Louis Sahagun
April 27, 2014, 5:05 p.m.

An albino variety of California kingsnake popular in the pet trade has infested the Canary Islands, decimating native bird, mammal and lizard species that have had no time to evolve evasive patterns in what was once a stable ecology northwest of Africa.

Unchecked by natural predators, the kingsnake population has exploded, say U.S. Geological Survey biologists helping the Spanish archipelago attempt to control the highly adaptive and secretive predators.
"The kingsnakes in question are from a species found in San Diego and bred in captivity," said Robert Fisher, a research biologist with the USGS. "Some of their offspring wound up in the Canary Islands via the international pet trade, and then got loose.

"Now, their densities are going through the roof."

Fisher is among three U.S. experts heading to the Canary Islands in May to advise scientists and government officials on the behavior and potential vulnerabilities of the snakes that first raised alarms in 2007.

Since then, their populations have swelled to thousands per square mile in the eastern and northwestern portions of the 602-square-mile volcanic island of Gran Canaria — a kingsnake haven because of its mild temperatures, moist ocean air and lush terrain teeming with prey that never learned to fear snakes.
Dogs and hawks have been used in organized assaults against the snakes. So far, fewer than 2,000 have been snared, most of them discovered slithering over the ground.

"The trouble is, these snakes spend much of their lives beneath the ground," said Robert Reed, an invasive species specialist with the USGS. "So my message to people in the Canaries will be this: The fact that you're removing hundreds of visible snakes means, unfortunately, that it is likely that there are many, many thousands more out there you can't see."

Brian Hinds, president of the California chapter of the North American Field Herping Assn., will arrive in Gran Canaria with proposals for dealing with what he described as a "monumental task." Among them: plowing up infested areas with earth movers.

"They need to strike back hard and fast," said Hinds, who says he has personally captured more than 3,000 California kingsnakes. "They're not called kingsnakes for nothing."

The Canary Islands are another example of what can happen when an invasive snake gets a foothold in an otherwise balanced ecosystem. Brown tree snakes have established themselves as a breeding species in the Pacific island of Guam. The Florida Everglades have been invaded by Burmese pythons. The venomous wolf snake was introduced to the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.

In the Canary Islands, albino and striped varieties of California kingsnake, known in scientific texts as Lampropeltis getula californiae, are roughly 30% larger than their wild counterparts in Southern California.
"They are a heck of a generalist predator, so they'll be eating any lizard they can fit in their mouths," Reed said.

Canary Island biologists fear that the snakes may be nibbling three native species of gecko, skink and giant lizard into extinction.

"The data obtained show that the California kingsnake has a high ability to adapt and its spread to all of the islands is more than likely," said a 2012 study funded by the European Union and published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. "This snake will quite possibly impact the local reptilian population to the point where we see their total disappearance."

Canary Island officials hope to eventually reduce their numbers by half, if possible.

"Most control programs for invasive reptiles are initiated long after the problem has gotten out of hand," Reed said. "Unfortunately, this sort of thing will probably become more common as international borders fall, incomes rise and more people get interested in owning exotic pets."

Butler's garter snake postpones building a firehouse

Thamnophis butleri,(Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources)
The following story is being carried by the CBC News

A tender to build a new Windsor (Ontario, Canada) fire station has been cancelled.

A species at risk will delay the construction of the new Fire Station No. 5, proposed on the northeast corner of Daytona Avenue and Northwood Street, one block east of Huron Church Road.

City engineer Mario Sonego said the Butler's garter snake could live in the area and further environmental assessment must be completed before the project can move forward.

“The Ministry of Natural Resources indicated there is a species at risk issue we have to study and take care of. That’s going to delay us a few months,” Sonego told CBC Windsor's Lisa Xing on Tuesday.

According to Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources, the only place in the world where Butler’s garter snake is found is in the lower Great Lakes region.

The snake is concentrated in two areas: within 10 kilometers of the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, the St. Clair River, and Lake Huron from Amherst Point to Errol, in Essex and Lambton counties; and in Luther Marsh, Dufferin and Wellington counties.
The City of Windsor had planned to decommission three fire stations and build two new ones by Dec. 31 for $9 million.

A new Station No. 5 is planned at Northwood Street and Daytona Avenue and a new Station No. 2 is to be built at Milloy Street and Chandler Road. They are part of a restructuring plan designed to offset the cost of an arbitrator’s ruling that awarded Windsor firefighters a 15-per-cent wage increase and reduced their weekly hours of work from 48 to 42.

Sonego said the possibility of Butler’s garter snakes in the area came as a surprise.

“We didn’t think it was going to be an issue of species at risk. But the MNR says we need to deal with it,” he said. “We wouldn’t have put a tender out if we knew we’d have to cancel it.”

The fire hall site is near a portion of the new Herb Gray Parkway, which also had to deal with Butler’s Garter Snakes.

In 2010, a colony of Butler’s garter snakes was found less than one kilometer away from the site of the proposed fire station. The snakes were found southwest of where E.C. Row meets Huron Church Road and the Herb Gray Parkway veers off to the west.

According to the Herb Gray Parkway’s website, constructors relocated more than 400 Eastern Fox snakes and Butler’s Garter snakes to protected Tallgrass Prairie sites away from the parkway site.

Parkway constructors also relocated approximately 3,804 square meters of Tallgrass Prairie vegetation, which the Butler’s Garter Snake calls home.

Sonego remains confident the fire hall will get done.

“The fire hall is still going to go there. Some people think it’s cancelling the whole project, but that’s not the case,” he said. “There are very few things that can cancel a whole project. We just have to make the proper compensation and the project will move forward.

“Certainly, regulations are getting more complicated and certainly species at risk are very complicated and cumbersome. But it’s not going to stop the project.”

Sonego said the project just has “to be done responsibly.”

He said “a qualified, certified biologist will do the work” to determine if the snake is in the area.

Sonego said a new timeline for completion is being worked on.

Cathy Beaten lives near the Fire Station No. 5 on Cabana Road. Her mom lives next door to the hall. Beaten wants it to stay put.

Beaten said she's "praying" the Ministry of Natural Resources finds Butler's garter snakes.

"I want them to stay. I’m praying they stay. I don’t want them to leave," Beaten said. "It’s such an asset to our community."

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Suizo Report -- CM16, Magellan

Howdy Herpers,                                               04/24/14

On the evening of 4 September, 2013, Typing Boy here was being led around the plot by Dr. Wolfgang Wuster’s students, who were visiting us from the UK. In what was one of many unwise decisions on my part, I handed the receiver off to them without full and proper personal preparation beforehand. Per a hastily-conceived battle plan, KIDS were allowed to do the tracking, whilst the pro followed, gutturally and mindlessly uttering the frequency of each animal to the would-be semi pros.  Each semi pro was to track his or her snake, and at the completion of each tracking cycle, the receiver was to be handed to the next person for their turn at it all. My biggest mistake that night was that I did not take the high ground for mass signaling, in order to establish an orderly route.

Hence, we plunged from the top of Little Hill--a good parking spot well to the east of Iron Mine Hill, to the valley below.  Thanks to the ineptness of the pro, we walked right past an easy target. We then proceeded to zoom (these youngsters move fast) to the top of Iron Mine Hill, where we eventually came upon a large boulder that hid our male tiger CT11. The receiver was then switched, and the easy target that we had earlier almost stepped on, female CM15, was dialed in. We plunged back down from Iron Mine Hill, all the way into the valley below, and found her up basking. The receiver, antenna, and various other accessories were then switched, and we dialed in female tiger CT13. Once again, we zoomed to the top of Iron Mine Hill, and wound up in front of the exact same boulder that CT11 resided under. This indicated that we had a pairing, which is good, but the discovery was made the hard way.

Now it was a young woman named Alex who got the receiver. On impulse, I instructed her to dial in 921 on the receiver.  She did so, and I was delighted to hear a sharp series of blips coming from the box. The snake that belonged to signal was a young male Black-tailed Rattlesnake, CM16. He was noticed missing in action on 1 September. This author blundered about the entire Suizo Range on this day, and could not get his signal from anywhere. On the UK night, he seemed like he was directly below us. Down the hill we plunged again.

As mentioned earlier, these kids moved fast, and worked well together. In no time flat, I could see from a great distance that the group had stopped, and were huddled around the receiver. Eventually, their elderly guide was able to huff and puff his way down to them. When I arrived, Alex gave me the news that the signal had died out on her. Sure enough, even though we twisted that dial all around 921, the signal was not to be found.

Hence, back to the top of Iron Mine Hill we went, back to the boulder that contained CT11 and CT13. The signal was extinct. Poof--gone! In desperation, the guide instructed Alex to dial in female tiger CT12. She came loud and clear, and the compliant group then plunged back down the hill, and walked to the edge of the planet to eventually find her up and basking.

I halfheartedly suggested that we next track female CM17, but thankfully, there was mutiny in the ranks. Fortunately, their Captain was also quite ready to throw up the white flag, and the coup was bloodless. We spent the rest of the evening barreling around the plot with seven students cramped into the bed of my pickup truck. This they seemed to embrace with much more relish than any thrill that radio tracking rattlesnakes might bring them. (These students loved the back of the pickup truck so much that they remained there for hours after we stopped cruising. They ignored the discomfort of being jammed together in favor of their beloved perch in the back of Great White).

On 7 September, Marty Feldner and John Slone teamed up to work the side of the hill that I had led the students 3 days previous. They were instructed that if they picked up the signal for CM16, to hone in on the general direction of said blips and stay with it--all the way to the big road if necessary. They got the signal, and like three nights previous, it died as soon as they got to the bottom of the hill. Per instructions, they walked in the direction of the big road, and never picked it up again. No doubt knowing that a severe tongue-lashing would meet them were they to fail in their endeavors, they even drove to the other side of the big road and continued the effort. It was all for naught. This was indicative of one of two things. It was either a quirky transmitter, or that snake had crawled well beyond the big road.

Finally, on 15 September, Marty Feldner found the lost sheep. He continued to head south of the big road, continuing the course that had been set eight days previous. CM16 was now 3,922 meters, or 2.44 miles, away from his previous tracking of 25 August. In 3 weeks time, he had boogied all the way to the base of Owl Head Buttes! But he wasn’t done yet……….

CM16, now also known as “Magellan,” came into our study on the evening of 28 September, 2012. He was a young snake, 663mm in length, (26 inches), 155 grams in mass, his rattle consisted of a basal, three segments, and a button. As he came into the study late in the year, we were only able to track him to three sites before he entered site 4, his hibernaculum. He entered this site on 4 November, 2012, and did not pop back out until 30 March, 2013. Site 4 was on the lower west side of Iron Mine Hill.

On 29 May, we captured him on the lower south side of Iron Mine Hill. He was now 707mm in length, (27.83 inches), his mass was 195 grams, and his rattle was basal plus four segments and a button. In short, he was a growing boy. We changed out his 5 gram transmitter in favor of a 9 gram transmitter (which gives us longer transmitter life), and set him loose at his second capture spot. At first, he seemed like he was going to establish his home range around the perimeter of Iron Mine Hill. And then he took off! By 20 September, he had moved an astounding 5,238 meters, or 3.25 miles, from his overwintering site. He then doubled back ever-so-slightly, but gained considerable elevation in the process.

Magellan never actually settled into one place for the winter. It is interesting to note that from 5 October to 18 April, he used 12 different sites. This was not nearly the case with the other five molossus under watch. Magellan seemed intent on seeking new hangouts. On several occasions, he utilized some rather cavernous openings in the sheer cliff face on the east flank of the Main Butte to go vertical on us. He would have been impossible to pinpoint exactly without rock climbing gear. Typing Boy here does not relish the notion of driving stakes and hanging ropes while carrying an antenna! Nothing but birdshit and fools fall from the sky, and I am neither. Meow…

At the point of this narrative, he has wrapped around the base of the massive cliff that Main Butte is composed of, and appears to be traveling southward, or away from, his previous home on Iron Mine Hill. His last tracking was on 18 April, and he was 4,928 meters, or 3.06 miles from home. The questions now are: How far will he go? Will he ever settle in to a normal home range? And of even more significance, how many animals make moves like this, and for what reason? And the final questions appear after the last image.

The dates of each attached image appear on the file extension. For our friends from other parts of the world, this hacker uses the standard USA designation of month/day/year. If that confuses you, no worries. You foreigners often do the day/month/year when writing me--and I figure it out.

Image 01: (By Marty Feldner) CM16 in situ, just prior to capture.

Image 02: Post capture. Note the tapered and complete rattle. CM16 is just about to enter his prime.

Image 03: (By Marty Feldner) Just out of his overwintering site.

Image 04: Going arboreal. At this point, he is midway up the south side of Iron Mine Hill.

Image 05: Looking south from the Southwest corner of the Suizo Mountains. Iron Mine Hill is in the foreground, the Owl Head Buttes are in the distance. Magellan is currently on the north-most, or closest, butte.

Image 06: This image is of “The Main Butte.”It was previously named by the DeNardo lab, who worked this miserably steep, treacherous and God-forsaken patch of ground for over ten years. Magellan overwintered on the east side of this scree-infested vertical hell hole, which is not visible in this image. He was last tracked on the west side, closest to the photographer.

Image 07: 26 October 2013. This is one of several places that Magellan occupied while bopping around on the east side of The Main Butte.upper north slope of North Butte.

Image 08: Zeroing in on the snake in image 07. This is the last image we have of him prior to the winter of 2013-2014. He’s a growing boy!

Image 09: Magellan coiled high and tight in an “I’m cold” posture. He was on the Image 08: Zeroing in on the snake in image 07. This is the last image we have of him prior to the winter of 2013-2014. He’s a growing boy!

Image 10: Looking across the expanse that Magellan has crossed. Note the absence of human habitation across the entire span of his travels. Imagine covering that distance, over three miles, on your belly!

Far too often, the most exciting events to occur with any given radio telemetry project seldom see the light of publication. When publishing or presenting data, we tend to focus on the bigger picture, the almighty “N,” while the truly incredible feats of individuals under our watch  wind up buried in charts, text, or other forms of overwhelming and indigestible gluts of information. We might recall some of these events while telling golly-gee stories to our peers, be that while sitting around a campfire or perched on a bar stool, but that is far as the best of the best of these observations ever get. And these observations are usually forgotten as soon as they are relayed.

Much is lost in our efforts to ignore highlighting the outlier animals in favor of the bulky body of information gathered on those that behave in what we perceive as “normal.” This is tragic, as the conservation-related aspects of telemetry studies might hinge on what is not normal. If 30 different studies each have one animal that travels great distances beyond what is perceived as normal, that would indicate that 30 different animals have clearly demonstrated the importance of wildlife corridors. But there is no way that any participants of such studies will ever know that others are seeing something similar--because we simply don’t know about them!

The author invites the reader to look at that last image again. In order to survive his travels, Magellan has had to elude hawks, badgers, bobcats, coyotes and mountain lions. Visualize an urban center between the Suizo Mountains and the Owl Head Buttes. Add dogs, cats, people and traffic as possible hindrances to his incredible journey. Would such a move be possible against these increased odds?

We can thank the housing crash of 2008 for putting an abrupt halt to the otherwise inevitable urban growth that the area surrounding the Suizo Mountains was about to experience. Sadly, said housing crash is behind us now. As these words are written, “Land for Sale” signs have popped up more prolifically than flies on a mangy skunk around the vicinity.  The juncture of Park Link Drive and Route 79 is about to fall to a stoplight, and the locals fear a shopping mall or worse will follow shortly after. Even Typing Boy here is thinking of investing his retirement funds in the vicinity, so that he too can reap the pecuniary benefits of a landscape being raped by progress. With Phoenix moving southward, and Tucson moving northward, such an investment is a sure bet.

Right here, right now, one can stand atop Iron Mine Hill and see nothing but reasonably pure (there is still cattle grazing, hunting, ATV traffic and wildcat shooting going on here) Sonoran Desert for over five miles in any direction. There is no unprotected place else like it left in Southern Arizona. It is all about to fall, and I don’t know what to do about it. While it’s not too late to stop the madness, the madness will triumph nonetheless.

A wise friend told me just today, “Don’t worry about it, Roger. Just enjoy what is there while you can. You’ll be dead by the time it’s over.” While truer words were never spoken, they still sting a bit.

This here is Roger Repp, signing off from Southern Arizona, where the turtles are still strong, the snakes are still handsome, and the lizards are still all above average. We should all enjoy that notion for as long as it lasts.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The black horned leaf frog is composed of multiple cryptic species

There are 31 horned leaf frogs in genus Proceratophrys which is distributed in Brazil, northeastern Argentina, and Paraguay. The Black Horned Frog, Proceratophrys melanopogon was described based on one adult female from Alto da Serra, Municipality of Paranapiacaba, São Paulo, Brazil in 1926. The species was not accepted as valid by some, but the species was revalidated in 1990 and data on morphology, and natural history became available. Proceratophrys melanopogon is restricted high elevations of the Atlantic rainforest of southeastern Brazil on the south, central, and northern portions of the State of Rio de Janeiro.
Mângia and colleagues (2014) recently reviewed of Proceratophrys melanopogon taxonomy based on morphological, morphometric, and bioacoustic data from across the species distribution. The results revealed four populations have sufficient differences in call and morphology to be considered as new species allied to Proceratophrys melanopogon.
The authors found P. gladius sp. nova and P. melanopogon living in sympatry in the Serra da Bocaina. The cryptic Proceratophrys melanopogon and P. mantiqueira sp nova share morphological characteristics, but they have differences in external morphology and advertisement calls that promptly distinguish them as distinct species. The geographic distributions of P. melanopogon and P. mantiqueira reflect the mountain ranges of the Atlantic Forest from southeastern Brazil.

Mângia S, Santana DJ, Gonçalves Cruz, CA,  Feio, RN. 2014. Taxonomic review of Proceratophrys melanopogon (Mirandaribeiro, 1926) with description of four new species (Amphibia, Anura, Odontophrynidae). Boletim Do Museu Nacional Zoology (531): 1-36.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Declining Central American Green Turtles

A 20-year assessment of Nicaragua's legal, artisanal green sea turtle fishery has uncovered a stark reality: greatly reduced overall catch rates of turtles in what may have become an unsustainable take, according to conservation scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and University of Florida.

During the research period, conservation scientists estimated that more than 170,000 green turtles were killed between 1991 and 2011, with catch rates peaking in 1997 and 2002 and declining steeply after 2008, likely resulting from over-fishing. The trend in catch rates, the authors of the assessment results maintain, indicates the need for take limits on this legal fishery.

The study now appears in the online journal PLOS ONE. The authors are: Cynthia J. Lagueux and Cathi L. Campbell of the University of Florida (formerly of the Wildlife Conservation Society), and Samantha Strindberg of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

"The significant decrease in the catch rates of green turtles represents a concern for both conservationists and local, coastal communities who depend on this resource," said Dr. Lagueux, lead author of the study. "We hope this study serves as a foundation for implementing scientifically based limits on future green turtle take."

Caribbean coastal waters of Nicaragua contain extensive areas of sea grass, principal food source for green turtles, the only herbivorous sea turtle species. Green turtles in turn support a number of indigenous Miskitu and Afro-descendant communities that rely on the marine reptiles for income (by selling the meat) and as a source of protein.

The catch data used by the researchers to estimate trends was gathered by community members at 14 different sites located in two geographically political regions of the Nicaraguan coast. The research team analyzed the long-term data set to examine catch rates for the entire fishery, each region, and for individual turtle fishing communities using temporal trend models.

Over the duration of the assessment, the scientists recorded that at least 155,762 green turtles were caught; the overall estimated catch (factoring in estimated take during periods when data were not recorded) was 171,556 turtles. The average catch rate per fishing trip (assuming average fishing effort in terms of nets used and trip length) revealed an overall decline from 6.5 turtles to 2.8 turtles caught, representing a 56 percent decline over two decades.

In individual communities, catch rate declines ranged between 21 percent and 90 percent in green turtles caught over the 20-year period.

"These declining catch rates align with our survival rate estimates of green turtles exposed to the Nicaragua turtle fishery and population modelling, which suggested the fishery was not sustainable at high take levels reported in the 1990s," said Dr. Cathi Campbell.

The steep declines in green turtle catch rates, the researchers maintain, indicate a potential decline of green turtle populations that use Nicaragua's foraging grounds, particularly smaller rookeries in the Caribbean. The scientists note that the study results highlight the need for not only close monitoring of rookeries in the region, but also in-water aggregations of green turtles. Further, future research efforts should include the use of molecular technology to better refine Caribbean green turtle genetic stocks, specifically to identify populations most at risk from turtle fisheries.

"Given the importance of green turtles to Nicaragua's past, present and future, we encourage the communities, governmental agencies, and conservation groups to take measures that conserve and sustain these globally threatened populations, and to work together to ensure that the communities have alternative sources of protein and income into the future," said Dr. Caleb McClennen, Director of WCS's Marine Program.

Growing up to 400 pounds in weight, the green turtle is the second largest sea turtle species next to the leatherback turtle. The reptile inhabits the tropical and subtropical waters of the world. The species is listed as Endangered on the IUCN's Red List and on CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) as an Appendix I species, a designation which prohibits all international commercial trade by member countries. In addition to the threat from overfishing (intentional take), the green turtle is at risk from bycatch in various fisheries (unintended take), poaching of eggs at nesting beaches, habitat deterioration and loss due to coastal development and climate change effects, and pollution.

Cynthia J. Lagueux, Cathi L. Campbell, Samantha Strindberg. Artisanal Green Turtle, Chelonia mydas, Fishery of Caribbean Nicaragua: I. Catch Rates and Trends, 1991–2011. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (4): e94667 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0094667