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Most harlequin toads are threatened with extinction

A deadly chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis has been infecting amphibians around the world with the disease chytridiomycosis. There are competing theories about how the fungal disease has become globally prevalent, but there is one thing that most agree on – it’s a serious threat to amphibians. Among the most impacted amphibians are the harlequin toads, brightly colored members of the Atelopus genus. 

Luis Fernando Marin da Fonte, director of partnerships and communications for the Amphibian Survival Alliance explains the importance of harlequin toads.

 “With their beautiful songs and unique lifestyles, amphibians are among the most extraordinary animals on Earth, and among them, harlequin toads stand out for their amazing colors. But these colorful and delicate jewels are becoming increasingly rarer. Harlequin toads must be protected not only because of their beauty and uniqueness, but also because of their intrinsic value and biological, ecological and even cultural importance.”

Chytridiomycosis is not the only threat to the survival of harlequin toads. The fungus exacerbates other issues including habitat loss, competition with invasive species, climate change and collection for the pet trade. Of the 94 harlequin toad species assessed, 83 percent are threatened with extinction. At least four toad species are already extinct, but there are probably more that have slipped away recently.   

Thankfully for the harlequin toad, their charismatic beauty has also attracted a lot of fans. A new collaboration between 40 organizations from 13 countries is now working hard to protect and restore the toad forming the group, Atelopus Survival Initiative (ASI). The organization was set up as a strong response to great threats facing the toads.  

“As an incredibly diverse group of amphibians facing a number of threats, harlequin toads require innovative solutions coming from a diverse group of individuals and organizations with different expertise, knowledge and capacities,” said ASI founder Lina Valencia.

“More than ever before, we need a constellation of champions working together to bring harlequin toads back from the brink of extinction. The ASI underscores the vital need to implement on-the-ground conservation actions that will mitigate the main threats to this beautiful group of amphibians.”

ASI has a lot of work ahead. Goals of the group include researching chytridiomycosis, restoring and protecting habitat, captive breeding programs and filling gaps in the scientific knowledge of harlequin toads. Overall, the hope is to transform these creatures from symbols of despair into symbols of hope for a biodiverse planet of tomorrow.    

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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