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Peace frogs and a salamander that looks like E.T.

Scientists discover a host of new species in remote mountains of Ecuador

Courtesy of Rob Buelteman/POST, Bolsa Beach

A scientific expedition along one of the most bitterly contested international borders in recent history has revealed a fascinating array of species, many of which are believed to be new to science, Conservation International (CI) announced today.

The new species were found by Conservation International’s Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) in the mountainous forests of the Cordillera del Condor of southeastern Ecuador, an area of high biological, ecological and social importance near to the border with Peru. The survey concentrated on the Upper Nangaritza River Basin, which is geologically isolated from other parts of the Andes, helping to stimulate the evolution of species which are found nowhere else (endemic species).

The newly discovered creatures--four amphibians, a stunning new lizard and seven insects--include a remarkably ugly bug-eyed salamander and a tiny but beautiful poison arrow frog.  CI is hoping that the discoveries will encourage the government of Ecuador to strengthen the protection of the area, which is close to a “peace park”, created to cement the end of hostilities between the two nations in the late 1990s after decades of conflict over the disputed border.

The expedition was undertaken by CI-Ecuador and partners including Fundacion Arcoiris and the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, and CI’s Rapid Assessment Program, with financial support from The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, The Mulago Foundation– through the Conservation Stewards Program (CSP), and The Leon and Toby Cooperman Foundation.

Leeanne Alonso, Vice President of CI’s Rapid Assessment Program said: “The species that we discovered on this expedition are fascinating and make clear how biologically important this area is – not only because of the wealth of plants and animals that inhabit it but also because of the service that it provides to local people, like clean water and the opportunities for income from ecotourism. It is crucial that it is protected properly.”

As well as the species believed to be new to science, the team also found a number of extremely rare animals including a crystal frog and healthy population of harlequin frogs (Atelopus sp.) which have been devastated throughout their range by the amphibian chytrid fungus, that threatens to wipe out up to 30 per cent of the world’s amphibian species, among other factors.

Other unusual creatures recorded during the RAP survey included many beautiful katydids likely new to science, and several species of frogs and mammals not previously known in Ecuador. The RAP survey also revealed two bird species that are endemic to the this mountain range, at least 25 species considered rare in Ecuador, and 11 species threatened or near threatened at the global level.

Leeanne Alonso added: “Preservation of this incredible mountain range is definitely possible, even more so than for many other tropical forests, because of the active role of the local communities are playing in pushing for its protection.”

Luis Suarez, Executive Director of CI’s Ecuador program said:  “This is pristine mountain forest, and the flora and fauna of this area was largely undisturbed by people other than local communities – who treated it with respect. But now there are many threats from agriculture, logging and mining, so it is crucial that the global community and the government of Ecuador recognize the importance of this place and give it the strong protection it deserves.” 

Related Link: http://www.conservation.org/newsroom/pressreleases/Pages/Peace-frogs-and-a-salamander-that-looks-like-ET.aspx