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miércoles, 23 de junio 2021
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Documenting Antioquia’s amphibians

By Natalia Piedrahita Tamayo – Communications Office


The Amphibian Biodiversity Undergraduate Research Group at UdeA’s Eastern Antioquia Campus will document the frogs of Corporación Salvamontes’ reserves, located in Alto de Ventanas, between the municipalities of Valdivia and Yarumal, in the department of Antioquia where around 230 amphibian species have been identified so far.

First and second photos by Mauricio Rivera Correa. First photo: frog of the Pristimantis genus. Second photo: Nymphargus rosada. Both seen in the La Selva reserve, in the municipality of Valdivia, Antioquia

Antioquia’s geographical location and geological and climatic variety privilege the biota of its regions. Different fungal, plant, and animal species live in these territories that constitute 5.6% of the total area of Colombia. Particularly, so many amphibian species inhabit these territories that we can say that this Colombian department has the most number of these organisms in the country.

Antioquia’s Herpetologist Group (abbreviated GHA in Spanish), at the Institute of Biology, has evaluated the factors associated with the life story of frogs: their composition, behaviors, interactions, and threats posed by the decline and transformation of forests, streams, and rivers of the department and the country. In line with that, Biology students at UdeA’s Eastern Antioquia Campus have joined with an initiative from the Amphibian Biodiversity Undergraduate Research Group (shortened BIO).

“We constantly hear people talking about how great biodiversity in Antioquia is, but how much do we know about the organisms that live there? As for amphibians, it’s more what we ignore than what we currently know about them,” states Professor Mauricio Rivera Correa, who has devoted his academic life to learning and researching amphibians.

With the support of the GHA and led by Professor Mauricio, BIO develops the project “DNA barcode: approach to amphibians’ molecular biodiversity from Northern, Eastern, and Southwestern Antioquia” with the purpose of studying and documenting the species of frogs that inhabit the department. The project, financed by the Research Development Committee (abbreviated CODI in Spanish) through its 2017 call, researches the amphibians from the municipalities of El Carmen de Viboral, La Unión, Jardín, Andes, Yarumal, and Valdivia.

Two weeks ago, BIO made a pre-sampling in the La Selva reserve, located very close to the Alto de Ventanas hill, in the municipality of Valdivia. The reserve belongs to Corporación Salvamontes, a corporation made up of a committee of professionals and activists who preserve a portion of forest where no systematic explorations had taken place before in search of amphibians. 

“We’re collecting information to generate an inventory that includes genetic, behavioral, and bioacoustic data of the amphibians we find. The monitoring of the vocalization (singing) of species contribute to determining aspects of the biological communities that inhabit the forest and may help us infer aspects related to their conservation status and the variations throughout different sampling periods,” explains Professor Mauricio, who believes that the first required action for the conservation of a species is to get to know it through primary inventories.

Most amphibians identified in the regions of Antioquia belong to the Pristimantis genus whose species do not require ponds or streams for their reproduction, since they lay their eggs on fallen leaves, trunks, and Bromelia plants, mainly inside forests, hence their great biodiversity. However, research still has to delve into aspects such as their taxonomy, natural history, and evolution, which might mean that this group has species that have not been described yet and, therefore, are unknown for science.

Amphibians are indicators of the wellbeing of a habitat, as Rivera Correa explains: “In the case of forests, if frogs don’t come to them, there’s a sign of alert related to droughts, aridity, or diseases; plus, frogs are plague-controlling species.”

Inventory to protect the resources left

The undergraduate research group started the sampling phase in the La Selva reserve, where the last 32 Magnolia polyhypsophylla individuals of the planet are preserved. They are trees of more than 30 meters tall belonging to the Magnoliaceae family and have evolved for over 70 million years. Most of their varieties are distributed throughout the planet, but Colombia is the second country where most species of this family live: around 40, all of them endangered species.

“These reserves are home to Magnolia yarumalensis, common in other municipalities of Antioquia, and Magnolia guatapensis, endemic to the Guatapé area, where it is believed to be extinct. The only 40 individuals of this variety are in Alto de Ventanas and are classified as endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN),” explains Mauricio Mazo, leader and keeper of the reserve whose mission lies in the protection of around 23,500 hectares of forest between Yarumal and Ventanas and the sowing of 3,000 Magnolia trees in those lands.

Since the collection of Magnolia polyhypsophylla seeds is complex, Mauricio Mazo created a system consisting of a capsule—made of wire and net—and a mechanical arm to install the capsule from a distance of six or seven meters. He collects the seeds in that way to perpetuate the species, since animals do not ensure the natural dispersion or germination of seeds when they eat them.

Students of the Institute of Biology who get close to these reserves have the chance to conduct their undergraduate research projects there. According to Rivera Correa, “with amphibians’ tissues, we can observe the molecular diversity of these forests and the genetic diversity of these organisms; all this allows us to recognize species and generate conservation initiatives.”

The vocalization of frogs was recorded with specialized equipment. This information will be processed using software that analyzes the different singings. The variations of each species can be identified afterwards to find clues on the evolutionary history and the relationships of the existing individuals.

Nowadays, 810 frog species are known in Colombia and 35% of them are threatened by the effects of deforestation caused by farming, stockbreeding, and mining, among other factors. Antioquia is the department with the most amphibians in the country; its regions are home to a number of frogs similar to that of the entire country of Costa Rica, which is known as one of the countries with the most amphibians.

“The relationship of Universidad de Antioquia with these reserves favors the development of research projects that contribute to generating strong scientific arguments in favor of public policies of conservation,” emphasizes Rivera Correa, who observes that, besides the work with amphibians, several botanical, entomological, mammalogical, and ornithological studies, among others, are required there.

These areas need to be protected; they are the heritage of northern Antioquia, a department widely modified. These forests not only constitute a biodiversity source, but also provide great ecosystem services to the community: they are the reserve of water we drink in towns, and our survival depends on their wellbeing.


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