Combining traditional activities with the conservation of biodiversity should not be difficult. In fact, these traditional practices often provide an opportunity to preserve vulnerable species and ecosystems against other more aggressive activities such as intensive farming.
In the southeast of the peninsula there is an endemic species of midwife toad, the Betic Midwife Toad, (Alytes dickhilleni) which we have discussed elsewhere. These frogs can inhabit environments of extreme dryness, but are always completely dependent on the scarce and localized areas of water to breed. Livestock for centuries has been the traditional way of life in the Segura Mountains and, therefore, the natural sources are exploited creating troughs for sheep, in turn, they have been an ideal breeding habitat of the Betic Midwife Toad. Unfortunately, this relationship is diminishing due to the modification of structures for supplying livestock with drinking water.
In the Segura Mountains, farmers traditionally used the trunks of the characteristic black pines to build watering troughs for livestock. Subsequently, these logs have been replaced with stone or concrete pylons that continued being suitable for the Midwife Toads. Unfortunately, in recent years these troughs are being replaced by metal troughs which are inaccessible for toads. In this interesting article you can find more information.
Last week we were in the Natural Reserve of the Mountains ranges of Cazorla, Segura and Villas to continue monitoring chytridiomycosis in populations of the Betic Midwife Toad. Once again, we have been able to see how the oldest stone troughs are no longer maintained and are crumbling, and more metal troughs are being used. Even when a male toad with acrobatic skill manages to reach the water to deposit the eggs in these troughs, he will drown hopelessly because he is unable to leave, and his offspring face the same fate when they complete metamorphosis a few weeks later. As if this were not enough, inadequate cleaning of the drinking troughs by farmers regularly ends with tadpoles of these rare stone or wood troughs remaining localised.
It seems impossible that Betic Midwife Toad populations of the Segura Mountains could survive long term under this pressure, in addition to the potential threat of chytridiomycosis. Paradoxically, extensive farming may be the only way to preserve amphibian species in this area in the long term, but it is urgent to start an awareness campaign for farmers and provide economic incentives to enable farmers to return to the use of stone or wooden drinking troughs and to discontinue the use of those made from metal.
In recent years there have been ambitious efforts from the Andalusian Council to help the toad, but unfortunately it seems that this is not enough to reverse the ongoing and urgent situation. Installing ramps in the metal troughs, cisterns and floating plastic rafts should only be a stopgap measure, and we believe that efforts should be directed to completely banish the metal troughs and involve farmers in the conservation of the species. We know this is not easy, but it is incredible that, as a threatened and endemic species in a protected natural park of this size, it is seems very difficult to allocate more resources to this problem.