A Biodiversity Hotspot Of Amphibians And Reptiles Discovered In Peru
February 20, 2014

A Biodiversity Hotspot Of Amphibians And Reptiles Discovered In Peru

[ Watch the Video: Tracking Biodiversity in a Global Hotspot ]

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Biologists from several universities say Peru’s Manu National Park is the world’s top biodiversity hotspot for reptiles and amphibians.

Manu National Park includes the lowland Amazonian rain forest, a high-altitude cloud forest and an Andean grassland east of Cuzco. It was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Preserve in 1977 and a World Heritage Site in 1987.

The park attracts ecotourists from around the world and features 1,000 species of birds -- about 10 percent of the world’s bird species -- and 1,200 species of butterflies. The latest study shows that the park also includes 287 reptiles and amphibians.

“For reptiles and amphibians, Manu and its buffer zone now stands out as the most diverse protected area anywhere,” study coauthor Rudolf von May, a postdoctoral researcher in the University of California Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, said in a statement.

He said that although the park is filled with an abundant and diverse amount of animal life, it is facing some devastation. The team said the chytrid fungus is causing a decline in the number of frogs there, and deforestation, gold mining and oil drilling are encroaching the buffer zones around the park.

“All of this is threatening the biodiversity in the park and the native peoples who live in settlements in the park,” von May said.

The team spent more than 15 years surveying the park and its surrounding areas for frogs, toads, salamanders, caecilians, snakes, lizards, turtles and caimans. They surveyed multiple elevations and looked at hundreds of museum specimens collected at dozens of locations within the park and its buffer zone. They performed DNA sequences and frog calls to help identify additional species.

In all, the scientists were able to create a list of 155 amphibians and 132 reptile species, including a few species new to science.

"There is no place like Manu where we can preserve such an exceptionally large amount of biodiversity, as well as the evolutionary processes that contribute to maintain and promote biodiversity,” Alessandro Catenazzi, an assistant professor of zoology at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and co-author of the survey published in the journal Biota Neotropica, said in a statement. “It is our responsibility to make sure this biological legacy is passed on to the next generations.”

The researchers estimate that the park represents just 0.01 percent of the planet’s land area, but contains 2.2 percent of all amphibians and 1.5 percent of all reptiles. They predict that additional species will be found in upcoming years as a result of increased use of DNA analysis, study of frog calls and other techniques.

Catenazzi said that subsequent expeditions have already revealed new species of amphibians and reptiles, particularly in the cloud forest and high-Andean grasslands. One of the biggest discoveries from the survey was the glass frog Centrolene sabini, which is the world’s 7,000th known amphibian species.