Ten new amphibian species discovered in Colombia

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ten new species of amphibians -- including three kinds of poisonous frogs and three transparent-skinned glass frogs -- have been discovered in the mountains of Colombia, conservationists said Monday.

With amphibians under threat around the globe, the discovery was an encouraging sign and reason to protect the area where they were found, said Robin Moore, an amphibian expert at the environmental group Conservation International.

The nine frog species and one salamander species were found in the mountainous Tacarcuna area of the Darien region near Colombia’s border with Panama.

Because amphibians have permeable skin, they are exposed directly to the elements and can offer early warnings about the impact of environmental degradation and climate change, Moore said. As much as one-third of all amphibians in the world are threatened with extinction, he said.

“Amphibians are very sensitive to changes ... in the environment,” Moore said in a telephone interview. “Amphibians are kind of a barometer in terms of responding to those changes and are likely to be the first to respond, so climate change ... impacts on amphibians heavily.”

Amphibians also help control the spread of diseases like malaria and dengue fever, because they eat the insects that transmit these ailments to people.

The new species discovered in Colombia include three poison frogs, three glass frogs, one harlequin frog, two kinds of rain frogs and one salamander.

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The expedition that turned up the new amphibians also recorded the presence of large mammals like Baird’s tapir, which is considered endangered in Colombia, four species of monkeys and a population of white-lipped peccary, a pig-like creature.

“Without a doubt this region is a true Noah’s Ark,” said Jose Vicente Rodriguez-Mahecha, the conservation group’s scientific director in Colombia.

“The high number of new amphibian species found is a sign of hope, even with the serious threat of extinction that this animal group faces in many other regions of the country and the world,” Rodriguez said in a statement.

The area where the new species were found has traditionally served as a place where plants and animals move between North and South America. While the terrain is relatively undisturbed now, its landscape faces threats from selective logging, cattle ranching, hunting, mining and habitat fragmentation.

Between 25 and 30 percent of the natural vegetation there is being deforested.

Moore said protecting the Tacarcuna area where these amphibians were found could also benefit local people by preserving an important watershed.

“We don’t go in there and try and tell them to protect the forest for frogs,” Moore said. “It’s more a case of working with them to find more sustainable long-term solutions that will protect these resources that are ultimately benefiting them.”

Editing by David Storey