On Wednesday June 5 the froggers of 2013 left Cusco for the biological research station Wayqecha. It was a five hour van ride on some of the scariest roads I have ever seen. I was torn between looking up at the spectacular views and looking off the side of the cliff to certain death below. To make a long story short, we survived.
Upon first approach to the station it was quite obvious why this type of environment is called a cloud forest. We were literally driving in desert like conditions for 4.5 hours until we suddenly hit a cloud and the vegetation turned from sparse scrubs to a thick, wet forest filed with mosses and vines. The station is in Manu national park and was established seven years ago by the ACCA (the Peruvian counterpart to the ACA). While birding is probably the greatest tourist attraction at this station, the leader of the frogging expedition, Alessandro Catenazzi, has been studying frogs in this area since before the station even opened. Our entire team of 6 froggers and a few other students are at the station here to learn the techniques we will be using to study chytrid fungus this summer. After the first two days, I quickly realized that the condition of the South American frog populations is much more critical than I originally thought. To paraphrase Alessandro’s presentation on the research he has conducted in the past, “the reason we are studying frogs that are only somewhat susceptible to the fungus is because all of the frogs that are extremely susceptible are already extinct or missing from large parts of their historical habitats.” It is sobering looking through recent field guides and seeing the small red dates next to so many beautiful endemic species listing the last time they were observed in the wild.
With the research I will be doing this summer we are hoping to get a better understanding of the spread of the disease into lower elevations where it was thought that it would not occur due to the higher temperatures, but has recently been discovered. One of the other projects that members of the group will be conducting is investigating a species that may act as a reservoir for the fungus, spreading it to other frogs without actually getting sick from it, therefore causing the disappearance of several other species. The project that I find most interesting that will hopefully be completed this summer is inoculating frogs with a beneficial bacteria that protects from the chytrid fungus. This method has been used successfully in saving a species of frogs in the Sierra Nevada from extinction. Currently the bacteria cultures are stuck in customs so hopefully they will make it through with enough time to run the trials.
Tomorrow I leave for Villa Carmen to start on my project down there.
Como es, no?