University of São Paulo: Last seen in 1970, ‘extinct’ tree frog is rediscovered in the Atlantic Forest

Scientists researched the reptiles and amphibians that inhabit a preserved region of the Atlantic Forest, in the Nascentes do Paranapanema State Park (Penap), in the municipality of Capão Bonito, in São Paulo, and rediscovered a rare species of frog, last seen in 1970. The reunion of the species is a symbol of hope in the search for animals considered extinct, in addition to warning about the importance of field research and the preservation of Brazilian biomes.

“We were surprised and very excited when we noticed that we were facing the species Phrynomedusa appendiculata , considered even possibly extinct”, says researcher Leandro Moraes, a doctoral student at the Graduate Program in Zoology at the Biosciences Institute (IB) at USP . USP. The article that details the rediscovery, Rediscovery of the rare Phrynomedusaapendiculata (Lutz, 1925) (Anura: Phyllomedusidae) from the Atlantic Forest of southeastern Brazil, was published this month in the international journal Zootaxa.

One of the hypotheses for the rarity of encounters with most species of the genus is that they live more hidden from the eyes of scientists, inhabiting higher strata of the forest, perched on trees and bushes. However, from time to time, these amphibians need to leave the tops of trees and seek permanent pools in which to reproduce. This type of environment is also more uncommon in the higher altitudinal ranges of the biome, and this may have contributed to the increase in the natural rarity of these species, explains the researcher.

And it was during this period that scientists found a population of Phrynomedusa appendiculata in reproductive activity, with approximately 15 individuals, half a century after the last record. “Although we also searched in several other environments and locations during this project, this species was only recorded in this single point”, says Moraes. Matias Queiroz, a local resident, was the one who guided the team during the fieldwork and presented the location where the species was later found.

One of the frogs was collected for detailed morphological and genetic analyses, in order to search for its evolutionary affinities, and is now in the USP Museum of Zoology. According to the researcher, as Phrynomedusa appendiculata and its relatives are very rare and, in general, little known, it is expected that the new data collected can support more robust assessments of the conservation status of the group, which, until then, was difficult due to the widespread scarcity of data related to it. “In addition, we carried out historical rescue work on the few reports of encounters of the species in nature. All this effort led us to confirm that it was really the missing species”, he adds.

Among other species found are the amphibians, also endemic to Brazil, Boana caipora and Paratelmatobius segallai. As for reptiles, the lizard Enyalius iheringii , known as the green iguana, and the snake Tropidophis paucisquamis , stand out., also known as Brazilian dwarf boa constrictor. According to Dante Pavan, from Ecosfera Consultoria e Pesquisa em Meio Ambiente SA, this snake is an example of the difficulty in obtaining knowledge about some species, because they have habits that greatly reduce their detectability in the environment, in addition to the fact that the densities of the population are very low, that is, they are very rare. “The results show that, despite the area being so close to the largest herpetology laboratories in Brazil at Unesp, Unicamp and USP, it is still very little known”, he adds.

“The chances of finding them decrease with the continuous degradation of the Atlantic Forest”
Between 2011 and 2012, when the survey of species in the region was carried out, Penap was unprotected by conservation laws, despite representing a highly preserved environment of the Atlantic Forest. “Another three species of Phrynomedusa have not been seen in nature for decades or centuries, and naturally the chances of finding them decrease with the continuous degradation of the Atlantic Forest”, he says. The study shows the importance of creating new protection areas and effective management of existing ones. As reported by Pavan, these areas of high rainfall at the top of Serra do Mar and Serra de Paranapiacaba present the greatest diversity of amphibians in the Atlantic Forest, being among the largest in the world, with a large number of rare, endemic and poorly known species.

“We believe that this rare and unknown species has an even greater appeal for conservation and can become a symbol for the preservation of the environments of Nascentes do Paranapanema State Park and the Atlantic Forest as a whole”

The field efforts of the team of scientists camped in the forest, to record the local fauna and flora, tourist attractions and land and land use issues, supported the creation of the park, which is now preserved by law. “We believe that this rare and unknown species has an even greater appeal for conservation and can become a symbol for the preservation of the environments of Penap and the Atlantic Forest as a whole”, adds Leandro Moraes.

The project continues to research the species, this time using autonomous recorders installed in the reproductive environments where the frogs were found: a way of monitoring the dynamics of the population in the long term. These equipments remain connected extracting acoustic data. The song of the species is identified in the multiple recordings through artificial intelligence, which may be an indication of the permanence of the species in the place and also help researchers to detect its presence in other areas, in addition to monitoring the temporal dynamics in a more precise way. of their reproductive activity.

The project for the creation of Penap, which supported the research, was mainly financed by the Brazilian Fund for Biodiversity (Funbio) and coordinated by Alexandre Camargo Martensen, from the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar) – Lagoa do Sino, and Ana Claudia Rocha Braga, from Fatec in Capão Bonito. Dante Pavan and Leandro Moraes, from USP, were responsible for surveying amphibians and reptiles in the field, and led the publication of the rediscovery of this species in the international journal Zootaxa this month, which had the support of Renata Amaro, also from USP, and Délio Baêta, from the University of Porto, Portugal, and from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).

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