‘The ghost that haunts Monteverde’: how the climate crisis killed the golden toad

Mattha Busby (The Guardian) writes about the irreparable loss of Costa Rica’s golden toad due to climate change: “The loss of the amphibian from Costa Rica’s cloud forest was one of the first linked to global heating, say scientists.”

Deep in Costa Rica’s mist-shrouded cloud forest, hundreds of bright golden toads would appear suddenly each April to mate. It was a spectacular sight for those who witnessed it: the dazzling, mostly subterranean amphibians gathered en masse around pools of rainwater and fought aggressively for the right to copulate with the females before heading back underground.

“It was one of the truly great wildlife spectacles of the American tropics,” says ecologist Alan Pounds, resident scientist at the Tropical Science Center’s Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve, standing at the centre of the toads’ former habitat. “It somehow looked unreal.”

About 1,500 golden toads were observed in 1987 in the area of the highland forest where the entire species resided – the Children’s Eternal Rainforest. But by 1989, only a single male was left after the pools in which the toads congregated dried up. He is presumed to have died not long after. The species was certified as extinct in 2004 and is believed to be one of the earliest terrestrial extinctions linked to the climate crisis.

Pounds was among the first to report on the impacts of the climate crisis on natural populations in his investigation into the declines of amphibians at Monteverde, including that of the golden toad. He and colleagues published a report which featured on the front page of Nature in 1999 and argued that the declines were part of a constellation of human-driven biological changes also affecting birds and reptiles. [. . .]

“Before, we would see litters of frogs hopping across the trails,” Pounds says. But on a four-hour hike in late August, not one amphibian showed itself – though on one occasion a ribbit was heard.

Climate heating and deforestation continue to push clouds in the area higher upland – creating the conditions in which amphibians are more vulnerable to a potentially lethal exotic chytrid fungus that has wiped out dozens of species globally.

“The extreme conditions that result from climate change and their interaction with other forces can load the dice for outbreaks of certain diseases,” Pounds says. “Rarely is it the case in ecology that a single factor explains changes: everything is interconnected, and the empirical data show climate change is playing a key role.” [. . .]

“The golden toad is the ghost that haunts Monteverde,” says documentary film-maker Trevor Ritland, who joined the searches and co-produced a short film on the subject. “Its demise is a warning to humankind: its killers may come for us and we can either learn or follow the golden toad into extinction.” [. . .]

[Photo above by Martha Crump: The golden toad in its natural habitat. In 1987, about 1,500 were observed in the area of the Monteverde forest where they lived.]

For full article, see https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/nov/21/golden-toad-haunts-monteverde-how-species-foretold-climate-crisis-aoe

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