• San Lorenzo harlequin frog by FundaciĆ³n Atelopus

    Colombia: Conserving threatened harlequin toads in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

  • Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta range by Jaime Culebras

    Colombia: Conserving threatened harlequin toads in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

  • Santa Marta harlequin toad in amplexus - Jaime Culebras

    Colombia: Conserving threatened harlequin toads in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

In Brief

Conservation Value:

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (SNSM), classified as a Key Biodiversity Area, appears to be the only place in the Americas with stable populations of high-altitude harlequin toads — the world's most threatened genus of amphibians. The SNSM is home to 5 threatened endemic Atelopus species, including the Critically Endangered starry night toad (A. arsyecue) and the Endangered Santa Marta harlequin toad (A. laetissimus). It is also home to 17 other endemic species of amphibians and at least 2 more species of Atelopus that are in the process of being described. The reasons these stable populations of high-altitude harlequin toads occur here are largely unknown.

Reaching 5,775 m, SNSM is the highest coastal mountain in the world.  Its elevational amplitude, isolation, and tropical location have conferred biological and hydrological importance. SNSM ecosystems encompass tropical dry forests (one of the most threatened ecosystems in the Neotropics), montane forests and páramos that supply drinking water to two million people in the departments (provinces) of Magdalena, Cesar, and La Guajira.

Threats:

Disease transmission by the Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) fungus and habitat degradation/conversion due to livestock and agricultural activities, water pollution, and unsustainable tourism practices are the main drivers behind the extinction or endangerment of many harlequin toads (81% of Atelopus species are classified as Endangered or Critically Endangered).

Actions & Results:

Key actions are to assess and monitor the population dynamics and threats to two endemic species of harlequin toads, and to design and develop conservation strategies with local communities. In 2022 Fundación Atelopus did eight surveys in the rural community of San Pedro de la Sierra to evaluate the population dynamics and epidemiological status (Bd fungus) of the Endangered Santa Marta harlequin toad (Atelopus laetissimus) and the Endangered San Lorenzo Harlequin Toad (Atelopus nahumae). In addition, Fundación Atelopus is working toward increasing connectivity between forest patches through reforestation, negotiating restrictive land use agreements with farm owners to reduce impacts of grazing and deforestation in critical areas adjacent to breeding streams, and promoting community awareness.

Location:

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in the Caribbean region of Colombia

Goal:

To advance the conservation of threatened species of harlequin toads.

Project Field Partner:

Fundación Atelopus

Cost:

Cumulative cost to ICFC (2021-2022): CA$22,253

Size of Area Involved:

2,520 km2 (about half the size Prince Edward Island).

Gallery

Click to enlarge an image

Starry night harlequin toad (atelopus arsyecue) - credit fundacion atelopus
9. credit fundacion atelopus 2021 copy
Credit fundacion atelopus
Santa marta harlequin toads in amplexus (atelopus laetissimus) - credit fundacion atelopus
Santa marta harlequin toad in amplexus  (atelopus laetissimus) - credit fundacion atelopus
Fundacion atelopus with arhuaco del sogrome indigenous people - credit fundacion atelopus
Santa marta harlequin toad (atelopus laetissimus) - credit fundacion atelopus
Credit fundacion atelopus 1
32. credit fundacion atelopus
Credit fundacion atelopus copy
Fundacion atelopus with arhuaco del sogrome indigenous people - credit fundacion atelopus
San lorenzo harlequin frog (atelopus nahumae) - credit fundacion atelopus
Santa marta harlequin toad (atelopus laetissimus) - credit fundacion atelopus 2
Starry night harlequin toad (atelopus arsyecue) - credit fundacion atelopus 3

In More Depth...

Project background

Fundación Atelopus’ work in the SNSM region includes:
• Evaluation and monitoring of the population dynamics of the Santa Marta harlequin toad since 2013. Fundación Atelopus has recorded approximately 581 individuals from this species via photo identification and capture/recapture techniques. Their results have helped to determine that this population of the Santa Marta harlequin toad (listed as Critically Endangered) is stable.
• Creation and consolidation of the participatory community monitoring program in the Cuchilla de San Lorenzo IBA (2018). The implementation of this program has helped to empower and provide a ‘sense of belonging’ within members of the local indigenous community. Participants of the community monitoring group are trained to identify amphibian species found within their territory and are taught about the importance of protecting the biodiversity and the natural resources of the SNSM.
• Rediscovery of the starry night toad (2019). In collaboration with the Arhuaco del Sogrome indigenous people and Global Wildlife Conservation, this species (aka Gouna to the Arhuaco indigenous people) was rediscovered to science after not being documented for ~25 years.
• Ex-situ conservation of Santa Marta harlequin toad specimens in Parque Explora (2019). In collaboration with Alejandro Ramírez and staff from the Parque Explora, the first steps were taken towards the captive breeding of individuals from this species. This could serve as the basis for a future rewilding project in the SNSM, in the event of rapid population decline.
• Empowering the Arhuaco de Katanzama community (2019) to recover, strengthen and develop their traditional knowledge and culture to protect and manage their ancestral territories and natural resources. This project has allowed Fundación Atelopus to assist with the development of a protected area management plan, informed by scientific data and the traditional knowledge of Arhuaco de Katanzama community members.

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