Discoveries
10.09.2018

Sounds of Survival

A quest to record a quiet frog’s call may mean the difference between its survival and its extinction.

Deep in the mountains of northwest Honduras, the emerald cloud forests of Cusuco National Park harbor a critically endangered resident with a face as endearing as its name: the exquisite spike-thumb frog (Plectrohyla exquisita). This charming ambassador for the park’s rich biodiversity is just one of 16 different species of amphibians listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered by the IUCN that are clinging to survival inside the small park. Some are found nowhere else on Earth. Despite the nominal protections offered by the park boundaries, these frogs face a growing suite of threats. In addition to illegal deforestation and climate change, chytrid fungus—the now infamous disease that has decimated frog populations around the world—was discovered in the park in 2007.

To give Cusuco National Park’s endangered frogs a fighting chance at weathering this multifaceted storm, scientist Jonathan Kolby founded the Honduras Amphibian Rescue & Conservation Center (HARCC), an organization that is working to both treat juvenile frogs infected with chytrid fungus and develop a breeding and reintroduction program for several endangered species to guard against extinction. But their efforts to breed exquisite spike-thumb frogs have revealed a puzzling challenge; despite 10 years of intensive field work in the area, scientists have never heard or recorded the species’ mating call—and recordings of these calls can be critical tools when it comes to inspiring frogs to breed in captivity. So, with the help of sound artist Ben Mirin, the team embarked on a quest to record the enigmatic frog’s call and bring its voice back to the lab. What ensues is both a delightful portrait of the process of scientific discovery and an inspiring example of the power of sound as a tool for conservation.

Cusuco National Park, Honduras

Katie Garrett

Katie Garrett is a producer of natural history films that combine intimate cinematography with personal stories from people living and working alongside nature. With a degree in biology and background in the arts sector, she is particularly passionate about amphibian conservation. She has produced videos for National Geographic, Geographical Magazine, Ensia and other online platforms.

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