March 31, 2008

Memphis Zoo Fosters Endangered Frogs

Researchers at the Memphis Zoo hope to be able battle the dwindling population of endangered Mississippi Gopher Frogs by using in-vitro fertilization.

Only about 100 adult Mississippi gopher frogs remain in the wild. Their primary habitats are found in two shallow, temporary ponds in Harrison County, Mississippi, but the zoo has become home to 94 developing tadpoles being kept in an off-exhibit area.

"We are very excited about this scientific breakthrough at the Memphis Zoo," said Dr. Andy Kouba, the Zoo's Director of Research and Conservation. "Hopefully what we have learned here can also benefit other endangered amphibians."

Once fully developed, the frogs will reach about two inches in length. Colors range from black to brown or gray.

The frog's habitat once consisted of regions stretching from Louisiana's lower coastal plain, east of the Mississippi River, to the Mobile River delta in Alabama.

Genetic isolation, inbreeding, droughts, and floods, continue to threaten the remaining population, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has been working to protect the endangered frog since 1988.

"They are endemic to the longleaf pine forest, which is almost gone in the south," said Linda LaClaire, a biologist for the wildlife service. "We also have a disease problem that creates tremendous mortality in tadpoles."

LaClaire said the agency hopes to introduce the new tadpoles into the wild where they will be able to repopulate the region.

"We can now replicate this on a regular basis and hopefully can apply what we have learned to other endangered amphibians," said Dr. Andy Kouba, the zoo's director of research and conservation.

Kouba also said the zoo is considering putting some of the new frogs on display.

"They like to hide, so we have to figure out a way to display them appropriately," he said.

The announcement came just in time, as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums has named 2008 the "Year of the Frog."

The zoo's project received support from the Morris Animal Foundation and Institute of Museum and Library Services.


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