custom interior divider

Three new frog species discovered in Southern Ecuador


Strategic Area: Species -
Content Type: News
Country: Ecuador -

New study describes three new species of rain frogs found in the cloud forests of Southern Ecuador.

CloudForest Numbala
Cloud forests are hotspots of biodiversity

The Tropical Andes encompass some of the most important areas on Earth when it comes to biodiversity conservation. These majestic mountain ranges host an astounding array of species across various groups of vertebrates, making them a global hotspot for biodiversity.

Within the Andes, the cloud forests of Southern Ecuador, situated in the provinces of Loja and Zamora Chinchipe, stand out as particularly remarkable in terms of their ecological richness. These unique habitats are characterized by a persistent mist or cloud cover that blankets the forest, creating a cool and moist environment conducive to the growth of a diverse array of plant and animal life.

Scientists Paúl Székely, Diana Székely, Diego Armijos-Ojeda, Santiago Hualpa-Vega, and Judit Vörös, discovered three new species of rain frogs in these high elevation Andean ecosystems. Their research was recently published in the journal, Herpetological Monographs, under the name of Molecular and Morphological Assessment of Rain Frogs in the Pristimantis orestes Species Group with the Description of Three New Cryptic Species from Southern Ecuador.

The study took place within the Podocarpus National Park and its surroundings, in Southern Ecuador. The park comprises an area of 358,285.51 acres and has a very irregular topography covering altitudes from 1,000 to 3,800 meters (3,280 to 12,467 feet), with large areas of diverse natural habitats. These high-altitude Andes are known for the endemism and speciation of anuran fauna (frogs).

These three new-to-science species of rain frogs have very compelling stories that inspire the scientific community to continue working toward research, species monitoring, and conservation.

Prismantis sagedunneae Photo: Museo de Zoología, UTPL

Sage Dunne’s Rain Frog (Pristimantis sagedunneae)

Pristimantis sagedunneae is one of 12 species recently discovered in Abra de Zamora, currently being described. It was found at 2,800 and 3,000 meters in sub-paramo ecosystems and it is believed to be a rare species.

The specific name sagedunneae honors Anne Dunne, in recognition of her passion for Andean wildlife and her family’s invaluable support of conservation work in Ecuador. Of particular importance is their contribution to the amphibian conservation in the Sangay-Podocarpus connectivity corridor, Ecuador’s first ecological corridor, which protects 1,401,253.074 acres of high-elevation paramo grasslands and cloud forest ecosystems, as well as chains of lakes and wetlands, with unique biological diversity and endemism.

Pristimantis paladines Photo: Museo de Zoología, UTPL

Paladines Rain Frog (Pristimantis paladines) 

Pristimantis paladines was recorded in Cerro Toledo within the Podocarpus National Park and surroundings at an altitudinal range between 2,800 and 3,100 m in sub-paramo ecosystems. The species is common and abundant in this region.

The specific name paladines honors the Paladines family from the city of Loja in Ecuador, in particular Felix Humberto Paladines Paladines for his valuable contribution to academic and cultural endeavors and for safeguarding the history and identity of Southern Ecuadorian people. In addition, this naming recognizes the remarkable work carried out by his children, Renzo, Bruno, Pedro, and Maria Gabriela, who created the nongovernmental organization Nature and Culture International (NCI).

Pristimantis numbala Photo: Museo de Zoología, UTPL

Numbala Rain Frog (Pristimantis numbala)

Pristimantis numbala has only been found in the Numbala Natural Reserve. The reserve, which gives the species its name, is an important private protected area managed by Nature and Culture International. It protects 4,448 acres of sub-paramo and montane cloud forest and is home to an important diversity of birds, amphibians, mammals, and plants. It is located between the two isolated extensions of the southern part of the Podocarpus National Park, guaranteeing the connectivity needed for the preservation of the biological diversity of the national park and its area of influence.

As described, all three species were found within or in the immediate vicinity of protected areas, hence, the study considers that these protected areas act as refuges for the permanence of this very special lineage of frogs. The study also reveals that at least 57% of amphibian species are under threat due to habitat loss, the expansion of the agricultural/cattle-raising frontier, and climate change. In this context, it is especially important to increase the research efforts toward the description of new species, to correctly evaluate extinction risks and implement adequate conservation actions.

Supporting research for conservation

For the past 6 years, we have coordinated efforts between Nature and Culture International (NCI) and the Private Technical University of Loja (UTPL) to study the biodiversity of the southern region of Ecuador and combat threats to tropical ecosystems in this area.

Thanks to the support of the Rainforest Trust, an organization dedicated to promoting the conservation of threatened wildlife and the protection of habitats, we conducted a biodiversity study in the Numbala Natural Reserve (managed by NCI). The study aimed to explore priority sites and collect samples of faunal and floral species. During this study, we collected specimens of the species now known as Pristimantis numbala for the first time.

Similarly, with the support of the Rainforest Trust, we have been implementing a project to protect endemic amphibian species since April 2022. The project focuses on safeguarding the natural ecosystems of Abra de Zamora, located in the buffer zone of the Podocarpus National Park.

Also, thanks to the support of the Andes Amazon Fund, we launched a book on the biological wealth of Río Negro-Sopladora that opened the possibility for new research and the creation of protected areas in the region.

In 2019, the conservation and management measures established between the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and NCI led to the establishment of the Sangay-Podocarpus Connectivity Corridor (CCSP), the first ecological corridor in Ecuador. The corridor spans an area of 567,097 hectares and is distributed among the provinces of Morona Santiago, Azuay, Loja, and Zamora Chinchipe.

With the support of the Wild Wisdom Foundation, we have promoted research on new amphibian species within the corridor and its surroundings. This research aims to increase the conservation profile of these species through the Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) program. The KBAs program enables identification, mapping, monitoring, and conservation efforts to safeguard species and their habitats.