The BBVA Foundation, through its 2015 Call for Grants for Research Projects in the category of Ecology and Conservation Biology, supports our project, "New control techniques in emerging diseases of amphibian populations at risk of extinction" which will last for three years.
Amphibians are the most threatened vertebrates on the planet. Approximately one third of the species are under threat, and we know that Chytridiomycosis is a significant cause of population declines recorded in all continents.
We intend to recover and strengthen populations of amphibians in the Sierra de Guadarrama affected by the fungal disease Chytridiomycosis, caused by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which has had devastating effects on this animal group.
Since we detected the disease in Peñalara (the first case in Europe), we have been studying its dynamics, both in the natural environment, and through laboratory experiments. This research has pioneered mitigation techniques that we now can apply in the wild.
The two main aims of this project are:
Mitigation in permanent ponds of the Peñalara Massif
The reservoir of pathogenic fungus during the winter in Peñalara are now the overwintering larvae of the Salamander (Salamandra salamandra). Therefore, at the end of summer we will remove all the Salamander larvae from different ponds, and keep them in captivity using the facilities of the Captive Breeding Centre for Threatened Amphibians of the Sierra de Guadarrama. This will allow them to complete their development, where they will also be treated with fungicides to eliminate the infection. In this way, we hope to reduce infection levels of water bodies during the following seasons, and ultimately break the disease cycle of the pathogen.
Removing the Salamander larvae, one by one, requires the collaboration of motivated volunteers who are prepared to work for several evening sessions, in the wetlands of the Peñalara Massif.
Reintroduction of the Common Midwife Toad in the Sierra of Guadarrama
The new National Park, Sierra de Guadarrama, includes areas where the toads disappeared decades ago due to anthropogenic pressures. In these zones, which are located at medium altitudes, certain bodies of water are potential "climate refuges" for this disease of amphibians because: (1) they have higher summer temperatures that hinder the development of the disease, (2) they could dry out during the hottest summers disrupting the cycle of the pathogen, and (3) their small size does not support high densities of larvae that favour disease development.
Through this project, we will create new populations for the toad in these "climate refuges" with captive bred specimens from the Centre for Captive Breeding of Threatened Amphibians Sierra de Guadarrama. Reintroductions will take place each spring during the 3 years of the project, and use both the larval stages and metamorphosed specimens to assess what stage of development is most suitable for the establishment of new populations. The newly established populations will be closely monitored during the following years to assess the success of these actions.