During the first two weeks of March, Connecticut Audubon Society staff members Frank Gallo and Twan Leenders travel to a Costa Rican rainforest preserve with students and staff from three Litchfield high schools as part of a year-long tropical biology class. Students carry out important research projects, some of which have been ongoing for 19 years. This is part II of a series of blog posts introducing the students, the projects and our results.
Students Walker Miller, Brandon Turner and Vince Hastings are searching for rare frogs, some of which were almost thought to be gone forever a decade or so ago. A deadly disease caused by a waterborne fungus has decimated amphibian populations worldwide and several species of amphibians have gone extinct in Costa Rica as a result of this global outbreak. For nineteen years I have been studying this disease, the animals it affects and the long-term ecological effects of removing a whole series of keystone species from a complex tropical rainforest ecosystem. Helped by veteran field assistants Alex Shepack, Tim Paine, Don Filipiak and these three high school students we try to find more clues to what is happening with these frogs and all the species they interact with.
Global changes in climate patterns are affecting their habitat, invasive plants and animals wreak havoc on ecosystems and loss and alteration of their natural rainforest habitat puts even more stress on these already precarious survivors. However, we’ll take the good news one step at a time and hope that their recovery will be complete some day.
These three students not only do well at it – they love it! Every hike reveals all sorts of new animals. Individuals are caught, returned to our base camp, identified, measured and weighed, and all data is recorded carefully for later analysis. Animals are photographed and quickly returned to the area where they were found.
Brandon seems pretty at ease too with this 6ft Bird-eating Snake -- this is only day three of the project and these students are working like pros!
After less than two weeks in the field, we documented 60 different species of reptiles and amphibians in the area and hundreds of different individuals were observed.
Future research will hopefully tell! For now we can leave the preserve behind, knowing that at least a few of these rare species are not quite extinct yet and are seemingly maximizing their second chance at life.
If you would like to learn more about Twan's research on endangered amphibians, please come see his talk on Wednesday April 6 at 7PM at the CAS Coastal Center at Milford Point, or come see the student’s presentation during dissertation day on April 28 (more details to follow on that).
All photos copyright Twan Leenders