The Aquarium of the Pacific is currently housing some of the world’s last remaining mountain yellow-legged frogs after their natural habitats have been threatened by wildfires.
The frogs, which were listed as endangered in California in 2012 and federally in 2014, have disappeared from 92% of their historic range, according to the National Park Service.
The Aquarium of the Pacific plans to combat this, as part of a wider project involving the United States Geological Survey, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Los Angeles Zoo, among other state and federal organizations.
Wildfires, which have increased in their severity in recent years due to climate change, have posed the greatest threat to the frogs’ survival, according to Brett Long, curator at the Aquarium of the Pacific.
Historically, the frogs were found across four mountain ranges in Southern California, at over 100 different locations. Now, the remaining frogs that are in the wild are restricted to three mountain ranges — San Gabriel, San Bernardino, and San Jacinto Mountains, and about 10 different sites, according to Long.
The frogs have experienced other threats in the wild, such as the introduction of a predatory non-native trout species to the water streams, said Long. The chytrid fungus, which causes life-threatening diseases in amphibians, also has been detrimental to the frogs’ survival.
Discussions of participating in these conservation efforts began in 2019, but following the fires that ravaged Southern California last fall, concerns were raised regarding the remaining tadpoles’ ability to survive the winter.
“We were able to sort of accelerate our participation in this process, because of how close to local it was and how relevant to our everyday lives it is,” said Long.
Propelling the construction efforts forward, the aquarium created a new behind-the-scenes home with many specifications for the yellow-legged frogs, including cool streams at about 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and a bio-secure environment isolated from other amphibian species, completed in July.
Of the tadpoles currently at the aquarium, 125 of them are from the San Gabriel Mountains and were collected by the U.S. Geological Survey. The aquarium is also housing a separate progeny of 150 tadpoles, bred at the Los Angeles Zoo.
According to Long, survival rates are much higher once metamorphosing into froglets, which could take upward of three years, but he expects these tadpoles to be ready for release into the wild some time next year.
While the public can not currently view the frog population, Long said the aquarium will certainly look for ways “to tell the story” in the future, likely through video.
Long encouraged those interested in participating in conservation efforts to volunteer, either through beach cleanups or by becoming involved with organizations focused on watershed or aquatic ecosystem restoration. Conservation efforts can also be supported by visiting local nature centers, zoos, and aquariums, he said.
While Long said he thinks the Aquarium of the Pacific does a great job at highlighting endangered local species through its exhibition spaces, more awareness is still needed.
“I do think that we have an opportunity to be a little bit more sort of inward focused and really highlight and talk about some of the more endangered species of concern that are in our local watersheds,” he said.
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