February 28, 2021

They discover in Ecuador tiny frogs easily adapted to high areas

Experts from the Technical Private University of Loja (UTPL) have discovered three tiny frogs that have an easy adaptability to the Andean ecosystems and are essential for the wetlands of Ecuador, a country that hosts the fourth largest amphibian fauna in the world.

The tiny frogs, "Cajanuma", "Quintanai" and "Tiktik", have gray, green and orange tones, with sizes ranging from 1.6 to 2 centimeters long and weigh about 0.4 grams.

The frog "Tiktik" inherited its name from the particular sound it emits, as if it were the constant ringing of a clock.

These are frogs of the genus called Pristimantis Orestes that live only in the mountain range of the south of the nation, in the Podocarpus National Park, located between the provinces of Loja and Zamora Chinchipe, although they have also been seen in the neighboring country of Peru.

According to Paul Székely, who led the research, the species is endemic to the southern moors and has a unique characteristic that allows it to live in high ecosystems.

"They do not depend on important water accumulations such as rivers for their reproduction, since their short metamorphosis between tadpole and frog occurs inside the same egg and not outside," the researcher explained to Efe.

Born in Romania, Székely considers "incredible" the diversity of these frogs that "are part of the entire biological network of the place" and said that "without them the entire system of the moors and high areas of the south could collapse," although it did not deepen in details.

With the collaboration of experts from the universities of Central Florida and the National University of Colombia, wetlands such as Oña, Nabón, Saraguro and Yacuambi and the Cajanuma sector in the upper biogeographical area of ​​Podocarpus, where the group is located, have been closely examined for three years. most diverse and abundant of frogs in the south of the Andean country.

These southern areas are "the least studied areas in amphibian species," said the UTPL researcher and professor.

In the moors and wetlands examined there are about one hundred lakes, areas that "unfortunately do not have conservation programs that are effective," he said.

The construction of infrastructure without proper planning, livestock, controlled burning and mining extraction, are the main threats to these ecosystems of the small frogs of the Pristimantis family, which has the largest number of species described among vertebrates and more than 500 different types.

According to a scientific article on the finding, published by the ZooKeys magazine, researchers already knew the presence of this genus of amphibians, to which the three types found in southern Ecuador are now added.

The taxonomy of these groups is "problematic" due to the absence of genetic information of the type of species or due to erroneous identifications generated by the high morphological similarity between frogs.

According to Székely, American researchers described the majority of amphibian species in southern Ecuador between the 1970s and 1980s.

"The problem is that they described these species without molecular analysis, and only used morphological characters such as color, size, bumps, among others," he explained.

Current research seeks to create the genetic tree and clarify the molecular state of this family of frogs, something that could contribute to medical progress in a process of comparison with other amphibians, according to Székely.

A study of the molecular system of frogs, based on the glands that secrete toxins, could help, for example, the discovery of new antidotes and anesthetics.

In Ecuador, which reports the largest number of frogs per square meter, more than 600 amphibian species have been counted, of which about 260 are endemic, according to the expert.

These figures exceed Brazil, one of the most mega-diverse countries in the world, however, there are still many of those species that have not been described and some of which are under threat of extinction.

Daniela Polo

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