Apr 27

Save the Frogs DayToday marks the 5th annual ‘Save the Frogs Day’, an international event which focuses on raising awareness about the plight of the frog, encouraging conservation action and celebrating all things amphibian. In honour of this noble cause, we thought we would highlight some of our favourite weird and wonderful amphibians from around the world, and hopefully encourage you to get involved, spread the word about amphibian conservation and perhaps even host your own event. The ‘Save the Frogs’ website has some fantastic ideas for inspiration here, so what are you waiting for? Hop to it!

Titicaca water frog

Titicaca water frog photo

The largest truly aquatic frog, the Titicaca water frog can weigh up to 1 kg and is endemic to Lake Titicaca, which lies on the border between Peru and Bolivia. While its extremely loose skin gives it a bizarre appearance, the skin is very rich in capillaries, enabling the frog to remain underwater without having to surface for air. Unfortunately, the Titicaca water frog is under great threat as a result of over-collection for human consumption. It is blended with other ingredients to create a juice which local people misguidedly believe cures many ailments.

Gardiner’s tree frog

Gardiner’s tree frog photo

From one of the largest frogs to one of the smallest now, Gardiner’s tree frog. This diminutive amphibian is found in the Seychelles and grows to just 11 mm in length. Unlike most frogs, which must lay their eggs in water, this species lays them in small clumps on moist ground. Instead of hatching as tadpoles, the young then hatch as small, fully formed adults.

Dyeing poison frog

Dyeing poison frog photo

Perhaps one of the most beautiful of all frogs, the dyeing poison frog is famed for the alkaloid-based poison excreted from its skin. Its toxicity is obtained from its diet, which consists mainly of ants. Subsequently, in captivity the dyeing poison frog loses its toxicity as it cannot obtain these compounds through its captive diet.

Suriname toad

Suriname toad photo

A fascinating species from South America, the Suriname toad must surely take the prize for the most unusual reproductive methods in the animal kingdom. The male rolls the fertilised eggs onto the female’s back, after which the skin on her back closes around them. After an incubation period of three to four months the young emerge from her back as fully metamorphosed individuals. Cool or creepy? You decide!

Purple frog

Purple frog photo

Only discovered in 2003, the purple frog is the sole surviving member of an ancient group of amphibians that evolved around 130 million years ago. This strange-looking frog is adapted to a burrowing lifestyle, spending most of the year up to 3.7 metres underground and emerging for a few weeks to breed at the surface.

Rabb’s fringe-limbed treefrog

Rabb's fringe-limbed treefrog photo

Perhaps one of the saddest stories from the amphibian world, Rabb’s fringe-limbed treefrog was described as a new species as recently as 2008, but the arrival of the fungal disease chytridiomycosis in the only known population appears to have driven the species to extinction in the wild. As of early 2012, a single male remained in captivity, believed to be the very last of its kind anywhere in the world after the only other known individual, another captive male, was euthanised due to poor health.

Darwin’s frog

Darwin’s frog photo

Discovered by Charles Darwin, the unusual Darwin’s frog is another species with a rather strange method of reproduction. The male possesses a large vocal sac, but rather than producing a loud call, he uses it for an altogether different purpose. It is his job to guard the fertilised eggs, and after they have been developing for around 20 days he uses his tongue to pick them up and manoeuvre them into his vocal sac. The tadpoles hatch and metamorphose within his vocal sac, emerging from his mouth when their tails are reduced to stumps. Check out a video of tadpoles moving within a male’s vocal sac .

Get involved

Golden frog photoIf you’ve been inspired to do your bit for amphibian conservation we would love to hear what you are up to. Don’t forget that you can also vote for the golden frog in our current campaign to find the World’s Favourite Species and spread the love for frogs!

You can also check out our feature page on amphibian conservation and have a go at collecting uninfected mountain chickens in our Team WILD game!

Claire Lewis, ARKive Researcher

Apr 10
Olivier Raynaud, Maintirano & Barren Isles Project Coordinator, Blue Ventures © Blue Ventures

Olivier Raynaud, Blue Ventures

In this week’s guest blog we meet Olivier Raynaud, the Maintirano & Barren Isles Project Coordinator for Blue Ventures. Blue Ventures is an award-winning social enterprise that works with local communities to conserve threatened marine and coastal environments, both protecting biodiversity and alleviating poverty.The Barren Isles project aims to protect some of Madagascar’s healthiest and most diverse coral reefs whilst ensuring the sustainability of local and traditional livelihoods, by establishing a Locally Managed Marine Area in the Barren Isles, on the West coast of Madagascar.

Hi Oliver, welcome to the ARKive blog! Can you tell us a little bit about your scientific background?

My academic background is centred on engineering and the management of public environmental issues (such as the design and coordination of local initiatives to regulate natural resources exploitation), but my practical scientific know-how mainly results from various field experiences in the Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean. It includes ecological monitoring, research on threatened species (seabirds, turtles, sharks…), invasive species control and eradication, and socio-economic research.

Why do you do what you do?

The money! No just kidding, I do it because I enjoy myself. This is a totally personal judgement, but to my knowledge, conservation is the only field that has enhanced my motivation and implication in a way that permits me to work in an efficient manner. My passion for nature and my somewhat subconscious need to spend time on issues that I find ethically rewarding, have catalyzed my involvement. At the moment I can’t imagine being as stimulated as I currently am, if I was working on any other mission than one aiming for the conservation of species, habitats and traditional livelihoods.

Why is scientific research important?

Whatever project it is that you are working on, success and achievements will be linked to the notion of progress. The trick is that progress cannot be assessed unless you are in some way measuring, determining and analysing all relevant parameters. Scientific research allows you to justify and elaborate result-oriented, pertinent strategies to start with, but more importantly it gives you the information necessary to evaluate the progress being made. Hence scientific research provides the knowledge necessary to steer and adjust action plans and strategies to ensure their efficiency.

Tell us a bit about the project you are currently working on and what the end result will be…

The project aims to protect some of Madagascar’s healthiest and most diverse coral reefs, and ensure the sustainability of local and traditional livelihoods. Our strategy is based on the establishment of a Locally Managed Marine Area in the Barren Isles, on the West coast of Madagascar, and expected outcomes include the preservation of pelagic fish stocks and ecosystem services, local capacity building in conservation, development of alternative and durable livelihoods, and the obliteration of illegal, destructive practices.

In our quest for a durable and efficient management configuration, in order to preserve and organise the utilisation of the Barren Isles’ precious ecosystems, Blue Ventures has had to address local overexploitation and unsustainable practices, but also considerable outside threats. These threats include the presence of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing vessels, mining interests targeting the islands for guano extraction, and illegal dive teams using scuba gear to collect sea cucumbers.

These external pressures are so conspicuous they are likely to discourage any conservation efforts made by the local fishermen, and in the long term may constitute a threat to community conservation. In order to avoid such a perilous start, and simultaneously take in hand all the issues, the community-based management of the area will need to be based on a primary legal status, an official Marine Protected Area.

What is the process for creating a Marine Protected Area in the Barren Isles?

In order to design and request a Temporary Protection Status that is relevant and tailored to the needs of the local communities, we embarked on a journey to consult each and every one of the 6 coastal villages and 8 islands connected with the project, all the way down to Soahany, 75 km south of Maintirano.

Nosy Dondosy, Madagascar © Blue Ventures

Nosy Dondosy, Madagascar © Blue Ventures

This was our brand new motorised pirogue’s first trip, and it consisted of a busy and demanding two weeks, which introduced the boat to the great variety of waterways in the area; unpredictable open sea swells, coastal breaking waves, meandering mangrove channels, and idyllic lagoons.

As the public meetings were held in the first weeks of November – before migrant communities head back south to their home towns for the rainy season – the great majority of the fishing communities participated in discussions on resource use initiatives in each location. They proposed regulations and drew outlines for a perimeter of the MPA, according to the conservation targets, and with regard to their preferred fishing zones.

Following this trip, a large meeting was held in Maintirano on December 5th and 6th, co-organised by the Direction Regionale de l’Environnement et des Forets and Blue Ventures. It gathered together representatives from local communities, regional authorities, and other stakeholders for creation of an Atelier Scientifique. This is where the conservation targets are identified, and an Atelier de Concertation is also made – where the stakeholders’ desire for MPA creation is formalised in an engagement document. The assembly agreed on proposing a perimeter that delimits a huge area; the proposed MPA includes all of the Barren Isles, 100 kilometres of coastline and numerous remote reefs, for a total area of over 5,000 square kilometres!

Public consultation in Ambalahonko, Madagascar © Blue Ventures

Public consultation in Ambalahonko, Madagascar © Blue Ventures

As the MPA has now been approved by stakeholders on the regional scale, the project now needs to be brought to the national level with another Atelier de Concertation to be held in Antananarivo in January – then the Temporary Protection Status can officially be requested to the environmental government entities. In the meantime, the proposed delimitation may be an issue for some national stakeholders, such as shrimp fishery representatives, and hence maybe subject to change.

However, what does remain certain is that stakeholder and community participation has driven this project a long way in the past weeks. This steady wind has propelled all of us at a steady pace through a rather smooth first leg of a very long LMMA trip!

What is the best and worst thing about being a conservation scientist?

It seems to me that the advantages and drawbacks of this profession are related to the feeling of working on legitimate, essential and challenging issues. The best thing of the job is motivation; being aware how pertinent your tasks are, and realizing how this wonderful occupation is significant in light of worldwide issues and future generations.

The worst thing of the job is frustration; realizing that despite knowing it makes sense to invest time in effort in such genuine and rightful cause, some other project stakeholders do not understand the need and critical importance of these issues.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

What I enjoy the most is being out there! It’s a combination of simply enjoying personal interests and working on public interest issues on the spot. Because you’re constantly confronted to the local reality, some days you’re disappointed by unreasonable behaviours, cupidity of individuals or lack of concern in long term public interests, but that’s only some days. The rest of the time your reaction to events is predominantly paced by YES, WOW, or RIGHT ON!

What is your favourite species or group of species and why?

Recently, my favourite encounters have been with rays. Meeting with these majestic creatures makes any snorkelling/diving sessions wonderful; whether they’re spotted eagles, mantas or devil rays, observing these massive bird-like shapes smoothly fly through the water is quite a show. My admiration is also due to their very social behaviour: how crazy is it that when you scream underwater, one of these beautiful rays may turn around, and circle you slowly before it slowly moves away? One of rare wild animals that seems to show respect and politely say “Hi” to humans despite our generally reprehensible behaviour!

 

Spotted eagle ray photo

Spotted eagle ray

Taking inspiration from Team WILD, what would your science superhero power be?

It’d have to be the ability to travel in time, or more precisely to send other people in time! See, what constitutes the greatest asset in the Barren Isles is the current good health of ecosystems and the affluence of marine resources. It’s an asset but it also brings major difficulties; how do you get people to adhere to conservation initiatives when today there are plenty of resources for everyone?

Being a superhero, I’d send a few community leaders to the Barren Isles in 2050, to make them realize that 2013’s prolific natural resources were exploited in a way that did not allow the regeneration of stocks. If we could make local communities realize the impacts that current practices potentially engender on the long term, that’d be a game changer for conservation and our project!

Thanks for Oliver! Do keep us posted on progress with the Barren Isles project.

Learn more about Blue Ventures and the Barren Isles project.

Test your own science superhero skills with Team WILD and learn more about coral reef conservation on ARKive.

Apr 8
Atlantic forest canopy

The Atlantic forest now covers only 8% of its historical range

Despite being one of the most diverse and biologically rich forests in the world, the Atlantic forest in South America is unfortunately also one of the most threatened. Only about eight percent of its original cover remains and its total area has been dramatically reduced to just less than 100,000 square kilometres. If we flip this figure; compared to the Amazon which has lost around 20% of its forest, the Atlantic forest, or Mata Atlântica as it is also known, has seen a staggering 92% decline. To make matters worse, what remains of the forest is severely fragmented and only two percent is still considered to be primary, or pristine, forest.

Iguaçu falls in Atlantic forest

Only 2% of the Atlantic forest is now considered to be primary forest

The Atlantic forest extends along Brazil’s eastern coast, into Paraguay and northeast Argentina. It is home to thousands of species that are not found anywhere else in the world; for example, no fewer than 8,000 of the total 20,000 or more plant species are totally unique to the Atlantic forest, including over half of the forest’s trees. Examples include the Endangered Pau brasil and the Vulnerable Brazilian rosewood tree. But it’s not just the plants: there are many mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates that are found exclusively in the Atlantic forest. As more of the forest is degraded and fragmented by deforestation, these species are increasingly at risk of extinction.

Deforestation in the Atlantic forest is a result of human settlement, dating back centuries to when Europeans arrived in South America and began to clear forest to make way for timber and cattle ranches, as well as to grow crops such as sugarcane, coffee and cocoa. In more recent years land use has shifted towards soy cultivation and pine, tobacco and eucalyptus plantations. The spread of invasive species and the ever-looming presence of climate change are also playing their part, providing competition for food and resources, and decreasing the resiliency of species to changes in their environment.

Brazilian rainforest cleared for cattle ranching

Brazilian rainforest cleared for cattle ranching

Of the 100,000 remaining square kilometres, only approximately 23,800 square kilometres are under protection; less than 2% of the forest’s historic range. There are, however, also a range of conservation initiatives working to protect and restore parts of the Atlantic forest.

One such reforestation project by The Nature Conservancy began in 2008 with the ambitious aim of planting one billion trees in Brazil’s Atlantic forest within seven years. If successful, the ‘Plant a Billion Trees’ project will repopulate 2.5 million acres of land, increasing the forest’s significance as a carbon sink that will potentially be able to remove four million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere each year. As numbers currently stand, 12,574,689 trees have been planted, with one tree planted per dollar donated. Despite being far from the target, this level of reforestation is still significant.

The Nature Conservancy are not alone in their bid to reforest areas of the Atlantic forest. The Alstom Foundation’s project aims to promote long-term sustainability in the remaining forest, and to reconnect fragmented areas which will help to support wildlife. Its target is to restore 15 million hectares of degraded lands by the year 2040, amounting to 12 percent of the forest’s original ecosystem.

Jaguar resting in a tree

The jaguar and many other species could soon be wiped out in the Atlantic forest

While we could go ahead and list every project working to reforest areas of the Atlantic forest, the important message to take from this is why these collective efforts are significant. Many species are on the verge of being lost from the Mata Atlântica, including the jaguar, lowland tapir and giant anteater, and many more species will continue to decline if further action is not taken. Large numbers of these species occur nowhere else in the world, and they require large areas of connected forest to survive and reproduce.

With climate change on the tip of everyone’s tongue, restoration in this forest could serve to provide a much-needed carbon sink, able to remove and store huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. Reforestation projects are also able to help local communities to build their knowledge of soil use, conservation and land management, enabling them to protect their land in the future and encouraging them to undertake their own forest restoration, thereby continuing reforestation efforts in the long-term.

Find out more about the Atlantic forest on ARKive’s Atlantic forest ecoregion page.

Find out more about reforestation in the Atlantic forest on ARKive’s reforestation topic page.

Become a conservation professional and help plant trees in the Atlantic forest with Team WILD!

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

Apr 3

Hello my fine feathered ARKiver’s. My name is George Rowe and I am a Producer at Thought Den, a digital design agency based in Bristol, UK. We’ve been lucky enough to work with ARKive on a couple of exciting projects, including ‘Survival’ their endangered species gaming app, and I wanted to tell you a little about our most recent: Team WILD.

Why did ARKive choose us? We’re a specialist digital studio and our working philosophy is that of ‘playful learning’. People engage more deeply, learn better, and are generally more involved with content if they can experience it through play.

Games are rewarding because we are evolutionarily hardwired to enjoy learning patterns. And games that reflect real challenges have even more appeal. If the content of these challenges is also educational then so much the better!

Original logos for Team WILD

The IDEA

Team WILD began life as an idea called ‘The Wildlife Apprentice’, an online game that would get kids to engage with scientific careers.

In the early meetings it was clear there were two different routes we could take with this game. We could either try and TEACH in the game, actively having people complete puzzles based on curricula learning outcomes (a la Manga High), or we could REINFORCE classroom learning with a game that would let kids explore the concepts in a playful way. Naturally, our preference was for the latter.

Science IS cool, but our challenge here was to find a way of showing the amazing things scientists do in an engaging and plausible wrapper. ‘The Wildlife Apprentice’ was a nice simple hook to hang it on, but it was quickly shelved due to potential copyright issues. What other hooks could we use to frame our game? Some ideas from our original proposal:

  • Science Armageddon: all the scientists have vanished. You must now do all the science!
  • Alien Scientist: you have infiltrated ARKive’s science department. You must now do science well enough so you are not discovered!
  • Science Superheroes: A team of science superheroes need your help to do science! You must travel the world doing science!

The question we ended up asking ourselves was: who wouldn’t want to be a science superhero?

The team at ARKive spoke with some tame scientists to learn more about the tasks they performed. Once we had our mega list of science, we sat down with the Key Stage 3 UK National Curriculum and our own list of game types and mechanics and explored different ways to turn these activities into individual mini-games.

Team WILD wireframes

Team WILD wireframes

Scientists survey predator and prey on the savannah to work out the dynamics between them. What if you were running along the savannah, pressing keys to count predator and prey? An idea was born. And scientists collect uninfected frogs in the jungles of Montserrat to breed them? This thing is designing itself!

Reward is also a key mechanic in games; it gives an extra little nudge for players to try again, to try and do BETTER. Along with the classic highscore table, by scoring enough points in Team WILD you can also join the team and unlock super cool treats.

Original character sketches for Team WILD

Original character sketches for Team WILD

The LOOK

From the outset we thought a comic/graphic novelesque style had the balance of fun with a slightly more adult edge. Once the concepts were finalised we brought in specialist games illustrator Nat Al-Tahhan to create our science superhero characters. Wanting to get away from the whole ‘scientists wear white coats’ stigma, we decided to give our heroes lab CAPES instead.

Parallax scrolling, where different layers move at different speeds to give an illusion of depth, was used for this exact purpose. Our wonder-intern Ellen created the beautiful layers for these (as well as the Team WILD logo), under the tutelage of Creative Director Ben T and Senior Designer Ben W. Ben W then tied everything together with a lovely user interface and some spit and polish.

The BUILD

An important part of any game project these days is deciding what platform you are going to produce for. We decided to go with a faithful Flash game for a number of reasons: it’s a proven platform, nearly every school computer can run it, and it delivers the most bang for buck.

Our Senior Developer Corin nailed the game mechanics, parallax scrolling backgrounds and interface screens, while developer Ben M (we have a lot of Ben’s) whipped up the backend for the highscore tables.

We took a beta version of Team WILD into a couple of local schools in Bristol for some essential user testing. The kids liked the games, and though some understood the science content it wasn’t quite clear enough, so we took the decision to add in some more feedback information after each play.

Screenshot of African savannah level on Team WILD

The GAME

So, after another couple of weeks of refinement, play testing and level design we had a game!

Play Team WILD

Team WILD has had around 80,000 plays so far and an average play time of six and a half minutes, which is really great for an online science-based game.

We really admire the work that ARKive do, and the chance to work with them again was really fantastic. Hopefully Team WILD will help inspire some conservationists of the future.

George Rowe, Thought Den Producer & Studio Manager

Mar 22

Last week saw the ExCel centre in London host the 5th annual Big Bang Fair, the largest celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) for young people in the UK. The aim of the fair is to introduce young people to the wide range of career opportunities available in STEM subjects and quite simply show them how awesome STEM can be. Once again, the ARKive team were delighted to attend, and spent four fun-filled days engaging with the next generation of scientists.

Claire at stand

Over the course of the event, 65,000 visitors descended upon the show floor to take part in all that the Big Bang has to offer, including 60 interactive activity stands and 88 workshop sessions from 180 different organisations. Along with the hordes of children, parents and teachers, the Big Bang Fair also welcomed a famous face or two, including David Cameron, Professor Brian Cox, TV Presenter Liz Bonnin and Business Secretary Vince Cable who opened the fair on Thursday morning. Of course, the two most exciting VIPs in attendance were our very own science superheroes Root and Flora, members of Team WILD’s elite conservation task force.

Brownies

Picnic area at lunch

Root and Flora’s mission at the fair was to help the rest of the ARKive team recruit new members for Team WILD, an exciting new online game which aims to introduce young people to both environmental issues and potential job opportunities in conservation. Through the power of stickers (number distributed: 1,661), word quickly spread around the fair and the number of Team WILD recruits rose rapidly. The new team members soon proved themselves to be of a high calibre, achieving some very impressive high scores. Due to these incredible scores, Team WILD decided to award one special commendation to the top scorer in each of the four mini-games. These prestigious awards go to the following rookie recruits:

Root FloraJungle
Daniel Nichols: 1,237

Aquatic
George Murray: 2,278

Deforested
Elliott: 2,297

Savannah
James: 2,319

 

Massive congratulations to everybody at the fair who came along to take the Team WILD challenge. For those of you who didn’t get a chance to play on the day, or for those of you who want to try and smash your current high scores, why not head over to our Team WILD page and give it a go! If you need any convincing, Team WILD was described by one young fan as being ‘like Super Mario, but with animals’…what could be better?!

Superman

Missed out on The Big Bang Fair this year? Keep an eye on the official website for information about next year’s fair and for details on other similar events near you. See you all next year!

The ARKive STEM Team

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