Feb. 17, 2011 at 10:22 AM ET
A global campaign to account for amphibians feared threatened with extinction has yielded a few glimmers of hope amid heaps of concern, scientists announced Thursday.
The good news first: A single healthy adult Rio Pescado stubfoot toad (Atelopus balios) was found during a night search in the southwest lowlands of Ecuador.
The striking spotted toad was last seen in 1995, along with many other closely related species in Ecuador. Scientists thought the chytrid fungus, which has taken a toll on amphibians, had completely wiped out the Ecuadorian toad. They hope its rediscovery will prompt measures to protect it.
"The land where it was found is unprotected and the future of this species is uncertain. It is likely that this represents the last population of the species because it has not turned up in any other known localities," the Search for Lost Frogs campaign said in a statement.
The bad news is that including the Rio Pescado stubfoot toad, the campaign found only four of the 100 amphibians the organizers hoped to find in remote places around the world. The other three finds on the targeted 100 list were previously reported, including the Cave Splayfoot Salamander (Chiropterotriton mosaueri) of Mexico, which was last seen in 1941; the Mount Nimba Reed Frog (Hyperolius nimbae) of Ivory Coast, which was last seen in 1967; and the Omaniundu Reed Frog (Hyperolius sankuruensis) of Democratic Republic of Congo, last seen in 1979.
The Ecuadorian toad was the only species found on the campaign's "top 10" list. The No. 1 species on that list, the golden toad from Costa Rica, remains elusive. Though scientists aren't yet calling it extinct, the toad is often considered a poster child for the global amphibian extinction crisis. The last known specimen was a solitary male spotted in 1989.
The "Search for Lost Frogs" took place between August and December 2010 in 21 countries on five continents and involved 126 researchers. The goal was to determine whether populations of amphibians thought near extinction had managed to survive increasing pressures such as habitat loss, climate change and disease.
The scientists, led by Conservation International and the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group, with support from Global Wildlife Conservation, also hoped to gain a better understanding of what's threatening more than 30 percent of amphibians with extinction. Known culprits are habitat loss and the fungus that causes chytridomycosis, an infectious disease.
The dismal results are only tempered by the unexpected rediscovery of 11 other species not seen in at least a decade. This includes five missing amphibians rediscovered in India that were announced Thursday, including one that was found by pure chance in a rubbish can and another, the fluorescent green Chalazodes Bubble-nest Frog with ash blue thighs and patchy yellow eyes, that was last seen in 1874.
Six species were previously reported rediscovered in Haiti, including a frog that calls like a ventriloquist. In addition, three potential new species to science were discovered in Colombia.
"Rediscoveries provide reason for hope for these species, but the flip side of the coin is that the vast majority of species that teams were looking for were not found. This is a reminder that we are in the midst of what is being called the Sixth Great Extinction with species disappearing at 100 to 1,000 times the historic rate — and amphibians are really at the forefront of this extinction wave," Robin Moore, an amphibian expert with Conservation International, said in a statement.
"We need to turn these discoveries and rediscoveries into an opportunity to stem the crisis by focusing on protecting one of the most vulnerable groups of animals and their critical habitats," he added.
Scientists are keen to study and protect amphibians in part because they provide important services to humans such as controlling insects that spread disease and damage crops. They also help maintain healthy freshwater systems, are a source of drugs, and play a role in human cultures around the world.
Though the Search for Lost Frogs has come to an end, scientists involved with the campaign will continue their efforts to locate and protect endangered amphibians. Specific programs are already targeted for India and Colombia, as well as using amphibians to monitor climate change in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Haiti, and Madagascar.
More species lost and found:
John Roachis a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook pageor following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).